Apartment locator fraud. Should I report? And to whom?
June 20, 2015 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I recently applied for an apartment my roommate and I found by ourselves. A locator service we did not use contacted me and told me I could get a $400 rebate if I told the complex I found the listing through the locator's website. I think if someone actually did this, it would be fraud, and I think maybe I ought to report this service for attempting to get me to do this.

Because I've been replying to apartment listings on PadMapper for the last week or so, I've been getting nonstop calls from apartment locator services. I took one of these calls today and told the guy I had already applied for a new place that I found on my own. He then told me about the rebate. Feeling suspicious, I asked him to send more information to a throwaway email address, got off the phone, and took a look at this service's website. According to the website the rebate is a portion of a kickback they get from the apartment complex's advertising budget when a new tenant lists the service as a referral.

I am really pissed this guy effectively tried to get me to defraud my new apartment complex by dangling a $400 rebate in front of my nose. So, I'm thinking of reporting the guy. Should I do so, or is that more trouble than this is worth? If I should report him, who do I report him to? I didn't write down his name, I just know the name of the company. There doesn't appear to be a BBB listing. Thoughts?
posted by sevensnowflakes to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wait, why not just take the $400? Its built into the cost of the apartment and is available to you.
posted by paulcole at 1:19 PM on June 20, 2015

Response by poster: To be clear, the apartment complex would be defrauded. Because the locator service didn't actually do anything to help me find the place, so the complex would be paying the locator service for advertising it didn't actually provide.

posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jut move into your apartment and let this one go.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:25 PM on June 20, 2015

You can tell the complex this has been offered to you, tell them you have declined it and ask if they will directly give you a (lesser?) rebate. The locators cut is probably more than $400.

The complex would probably love to know one of their "partners" is doing this, and yes, those kinds of fees are built into the cost.
posted by littlewater at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

While the apartment complex certainly has this built into their budget, it sure does seem fraudulent, and you could probably start off on a good foot as a tenant by letting the complex management know that one of their referral sources is doing this.
posted by jgreco at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jut move into your apartment and let this one go.

No, what? Fuck this. sevensnowflakes, I'm with you, this sounds shady. Even if the $400 came from monies that have already been paid, the apartment complex would probably like to know that their listing service sucks balls. I mean, at the end of the year that'll be one more tally in the "look how many apartments we got you!" column when actually it's bullshit. I would 100% want to know if I was paying a service that not only was redundant in doing its job but was also lying to me and making me look like a schmuck to my new customers.

Tell your apartment building. I'm sure you have a number you're supposed to call for maintenance requests and the like. Call that and escalate it on up the chain of command until you're talking with someone in a managerial role. I'm sure they'd be very interested in hearing about this.

I mean like seriously, how many tenants have found the building on their own and then been back-ended into the listing service like this? It might just be you but I be it's not. How much of your monthly rent is allocated towards funding the complex's marketing budget so they can keep paying the listing service? Ugh, these people. Rat on them.

Who knows, maybe the apartment complex will even give you a $ kickback for being a whistleblower. Stranger things have happened.
posted by phunniemee at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

I don't understand why the apartment locator service was calling you. Did they seem to have knowledge that you had already applied for the apartment and were calling you because of that, or was this a locator you had previously requested apartment referrals from?

That's an important distinction. Getting a call from an apartment locator service that you previously contacted that just happened to be trying to refer you to the same apartment you happened to have already applied for, and who lets you know about the apartment building's referral bonus that they were already planning to offer you, is an awkward and coincidental situation with multiple ethical implications. On the other hand, an organization that somehow finds out you've applied for an apartment and who contacts you in hope of getting an unwarranted and wholly fraudulent referral commission is both pretty creepy and is in substantial bad faith. This situation is probably in-between, and I can't tell where from your description it is.

(The reason I say this is that this sort of thing can happen even when there's no bad faith or overt fraud: I once had a situation where I was contacted by a qualified job seeker applying for a job independently on the same day I received that same job seeker's resume from a recruiter that we were both working with. Nobody was acting in bad faith, it was just an awkward coincidence with ethical implications. We ended up hiring her and negotiating a lower finder's fee with the recruiter, which we mutually agreed was an ethical way to address the dilemma. But it was awkward.)
posted by eschatfische at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2015

I would absolutely tell the apartment complex, but I'd probably also call the non-emergency line and report it to the police.
posted by alycoop at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2015

Response by poster: eschatfische - When you look at some apartment listings through PadMapper (a listing aggregator), depending on the website from which the listing is drawn, there is the option to request information about that particular listing. I have done that with a number of listings. So I haven't been contacting locators because I wanted to use a locator - I've been requesting more information about specific listings and getting calls from locators which, apparently, placed the listings.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2015

So, looking at PadMapper, there is clearly a mix of services, agents and independent rentals posting listings on the site.

When you looked at the apartment listing for the apartment you applied for on PadMapper, what site was the information pulled from? Was it on a locator service web site, like apartmentsearch.com or something like that? Or was it Craigslist?

It sounds to me like the locator service posted the information on this apartment to PadMapper, and may have even done so as a paid agent of the apartment building. If the location service contacted you based on the information you provided on the web site you clicked through to, it really sounds like you were looking at their listing.

The question is how you originally found out about the open apartment that you applied to. Did you originally see the listing on PadMapper, and then go directly to the apartment's management to apply for an apartment? Or did you find out about the apartment via other means (like a for rent sign in the window of the building) and *then* request information on PadMapper?

If the locator service has legitimate reason to believe that you discovered the apartment you applied for through their listing, it's not unethical for them to ask you to mention to the apartment building that you were referred by them.

I don't want to inadvertently defend some sort of scammy fraudulent locator service, but what you describe could go either way.
posted by eschatfische at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The locator service has no legitimate reason to believe I discovered the apartment through their listing. I found this apartment by browsing the community's website and looking for availability myself.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2015

OK, so this is a situation where the locator service that called you was calling you regarding an inquiry about a different apartment than the one you applied for - and then after being told you had applied to this other, unrelated apartment, they asked for a referral to the unrelated one you had just told them about?
posted by eschatfische at 3:24 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is there a realtor board or renters council in your area? They can give better advice about the legalities of this in your area. I'm not sure its illegal, possibly, but the ethics do seem shaky. The proper licensing boards would likely be interested, and know what to do.
posted by Jacen at 9:30 AM on June 22, 2015

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