Fear and Anxiety Makes Students Vulnerable to Rental Scams

“I’ll mail you the keys.” What sounds like a courteous gesture from a potential landlord is actually a common catchphrase used by rental scammers. On average, two to four students per semester bring their experiences of rental scams to the office of Off-Campus Student Services. But according to Andrea Rocha, Assistant Director of Off-Campus Student Services, there could be more cases of students being scammed or misled by landlords. “I hope it is only two to four,” said Rocha.


“Maybe [students] do not come because they are embarrassed or they don’t know we are here,” said Rocha. The Off-Campus Student Services office is located within Student Housing and Residential Education on the University Center’s fifth floor. It was created to support those student who are seeking housing off campus and to offer support.


Rocha gave two common examples of scams: the first, a student discovers an apartment that is rented below the market rate, fully furnished and the owner is moving far away. The student sends a payment in cash in the mail. They never hear back.


The second scam is: a student goes to an apartment and is informed by the “landlord” that they forgot to bring the keys. Instead, they tell the student about the apartment outside. The student then gives the deposit and the “landlord” says they will mail the keys. Once the student pays, they never hear from the “landlord’ again.


“[These landlords] play off of fear, whether you are eighteen years old or thirty and just moved here. The common theme is anxiety and fear,” Rocha said. Rocha thinks students’ fear comes from being told through the grapevine that it is impossible to find housing in San Francisco. “If you have enough people tell you it’s impossible, and then I tell you that you have to go through this housing process, students become scared,” she said. This is why most students will be drawn to the scam. They are “trying to find the deal.”


Some students take action and file a report with Public Safety. They are asked to give as many details as possible about the scam. The student will then be taken to the San Francisco Police Department to file a report with the city. According to Rocha, some students would rather not file a report and just move on from the experience. For those students who do file reports, it is rare that anyone recovers their money, according to Daniel Lawson, Senior Director of the Department of Public Safety. “Most of these scams occur over the internet and are very difficult to track,” Lawson said.


Rocha had a student come in during the past week who experienced a scam wherein students were told false information about a rental agreement. The student was told that they were going to live with two people. Once the student moved in, the landlord placed another person in the apartment, making it a total of four people. The landlord had added another person to the apartment but kept the rent the same. “I do think people see students, if you are seventeen, eighteen, as the people you can push around or ‘I can tell you this is how we do it,’” Rocha said.


Off-Campus Student Services has been increasing their outreach by tabling in freshman dorm buildings, sending mass emails about rental scams and hosting monthly informational coffee meetings.


Featured Photo: One rental scam students report to Off-Campus Student Services is one where a student finds a cheap apartment, but mails the payment in cash, and never hears from the landlord again. MARDY HARDING/FOGHORN

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