Part Four

Welcome to the fourth installment of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. Our aim is to share information that will help innocent people protect themselves from being victimized by bad actors trying to get their money. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].

Electronic money transfers and how to be cautious 

In today’s digital era, many people choose to send money to others electronically. However, along with the ease and convenience of this form of transfer comes the risk of scams and fraud. Once money has been sent electronically, it’s usually gone for good. So, it’s important to be cautious and take the necessary steps to protect your money when sending it electronically. Here are some tips on how to send money safely and securely. 

Beware of Scams 

Unfortunately, scams involving cash apps are becoming more common. Some scams include phishing, where scammers trick you into giving out your personal information. Others involve money flipping, where scammers promise to multiply your money for a fee.   

Protect Your Personal Information 

Scammers may pose as representatives from financial institutions to trick people into giving out their personal information. Legitimate organizations do not ask for this information over the phone or electronically. Never disclose your personal information, such as your phone number, credit card details, or social security number, to anyone electronically. 

 Double-Check Before Sending 

Make sure you double-check all information before initiating a transfer electronically. This includes the recipient’s name, bank details, and the amount you’re sending. 

Test Before Sending Large Amounts 

Before sending a large sum of money, send a small amount first to ensure the transfer works correctly and is received by the person you intended.. 

Know the Recipient 

Knowing who you’re sending money to is crucial. Ask yourself: Do I know and really trust this person? 

If you’re making a transaction at a financial institution, it is to your benefit to be honest with the agent you are working with about who you are sending the money to –  openness can elicit advice on how to get additional protection against fraud. 

Understand Why You Are Sending Money 

Take time to step back and ask yourself if the request to send money makes sense and if you are sure you can trust the recipient. Are you sending money to a close family member or a close friend? A trusted business you know well and have worked with before? These are two scenarios where your money is hopefully going to a trusted recipient. But sometimes people may just be trying to cheat you out of your money by making up stories that touch your heart, so be very careful. 

Ways to Send Money: 

Bank Wires 

A bank wire can be a secure method of sending money to a friend, family member, or business.  The recipient will need to provide their bank account details for the transfer to take place.  Whether you are sending or receiving the wire transfer, it is important to be sure you know and trust the other party.  Once a wire transfer is sent, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get the funds back.  The financial institution may ask additional questions about the transfer or your relationship with the other party to understand the transaction to try to protect you and your money. Be honest with the banker – they are  familiar with many scams that hurt innocent people and are trying to help you. 

Money Transfer Apps 

Money transfer apps can be a convenient way to send money.  They offer encryption and fraud detection features to ensure your transaction is secure. Make sure to download the app from a trusted source and keep your login information private.  Despite the fraud detection features, fraudulent transactions can still happen. It’s important to only send money to someone you know and never give out access to your phone or app login. 

Money-Transfer Providers 

Western Union and MoneyGram are well-known money-transfer providers that have been around for a long time. They have a strong reputation for being reliable and secure. They provide tracking numbers so you can monitor the progress of your transfer. However, these two providers do not serve all regions of the world or even all countries, so using other providers might be necessary. Before choosing a provider, make sure to research them well. 

Avoiding imposter scams  

Fraudsters and scammers use tricks to try to steal money and/or personal information from others. By following the tips in Amjambo’s series on fraud and scams, you can safeguard your money and your important personal information. Imposter scams – one of the many types of scams that circulate widely in the U.S. – are described below, along with advice on how to avoid becoming a victim. 

What is an imposter scam? 

An imposter scam is when a fraudster pretends to be someone else – such as a government official, police officer, credit union or bank employee, friend, or family member – with the intention of obtaining an individual’s money or personal information. Victims of these scams can be contacted through a phone call, text, email, or other messaging channel. 

What are some kinds of imposter scams? 

Government impersonation scams: The fraudster pretends to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, immigration officer, or law enforcement official such as a police officer. When they contact you, they may claim that you owe money or have committed a crime. The impersonator may threaten legal action or arrest unless you make an immediate payment. 

  Tech support scams: An imposter pretends to be from a well-known and trusted technology company, such as Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, or others, and tells you that your device has a virus or other technical issue. They offer to fix it for a fee, and may even request remote access to the device. If you grant that access, the scammer can steal sensitive information, such as banking details or personal information. 

  Romance scams: In this scam, a fraudster will create a fake online profile on a dating website or social media platform and begin communicating with their victim. Over time, as they build trust, the victim thinks they’ve found love online. Eventually, the imposter requests money for something that makes sense to the victim, such as needing travel expenses to meet in person. However, the fraudster collects the money and disappears. 

  Friend or family impersonation scams: Imposters contact victims, posing as a family member or close friend in a crisis. For example, a fraudster may call a grandparent and pose as their grandchild. They could say they’ve been in an accident or have been arrested, and they need immediate financial help, exploiting the victim’s desire to help their loved one. 

  Work scams: A fraudster may impersonate a high-ranking employee at the victim’s place of employment, and instruct the victim to transfer funds to a fraudulent account, saying they are on a work trip and have lost their wallet – or for some other reason they invent. 

How can you avoid imposter scams? 

  Verify identities: Before sending money or personal information to anyone – even if you believe they should be trusted – verify the person’s identity. Scammers can now falsify caller ID numbers, so if a call seems to be coming from a friend’s or family member’s phone, hang up and call your friend back to confirm there is no fraud going on. 

  Don’t rush: Scammers want people to act quickly and make payments without taking time to reflect. Being pressured to act rapidly is a warning sign of a possible scam. If someone threatens arrest, legal action, or any other consequence if they do not get money right away, this is likely a scam. Scammers know that fear can lead to poor judgment. 

  Be suspicious of unusual payment methods: If someone asks you to send a payment by a wire transfer, prepaid card, or cryptocurrency, do not do so. These methods are nearly untraceable, and once the money is sent, it’s usually gone for good. 

  Trust your instincts: If something seems suspicious or too good to be true, trust your instincts. Scammers frequently exploit emotions like fear, greed, or sympathy to manipulate their victims into sending money. Remain cautious and skeptical and do not be afraid to ask questions or refuse requests that seem suspicious. 

Part Three

Welcome to the third installment of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. Our aim is to share information that will help innocent people protect themselves from being victimized by bad actors trying to get their money. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].

Avoiding immigration and employment scams 

Navigating life in a new country is hard enough without scammers and fraudsters adding to the challenges. However, immigrants who are new to the country or don’t speak English well are easy targets for scammers and fraudsters. Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of targeted efforts to cheat you out of your money. This way you can arm yourself with the knowledge you need to protect yourself, your family, and your friends. 


When it comes to immigration, be careful who you ask for help. Make sure to consult with reputable and licensed immigration attorneys or professionals. Research credentials, read reviews, and ask for recommendations from trusted sources before seeking assistance. The Immigration Legal Advocacy Project has attorneys you can trust. However, if you are unable to find an immigration attorney, visit Hope House on Sherman Street in Portland on Monday or Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to ask about the Asylum Application Resource Center. 

Notario fraud: This scam is conducted by individuals who claim to be knowledgeable about immigration laws and procedures. They often use the term notario to trick immigrants. In other countries, a notario público or notario can be someone who has a lot of legal training. But in the U.S., a notary or notario público is someone who serves as a witness when others are signing official documents – they are not licensed attorneys and can’t give you legal advice. However, scammers calling themselves a notario will falsely pose as legal professionals and charge high fees for assistance with immigration forms or cases, providing little to no help, and sometimes causing trouble with immigration. 

Fake government websites: Scammers often create websites that mimic official government sites, leading immigrants to believe they are working with a legitimate source. For example, when looking for immigration help, there might be a website that looks exactly like the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website – but it’s not. If a web address doesn’t end in .gov, it’s not an actual federal government website. The fake site might be operated by a scammer who will charge a fee for forms that are supposed to be free. Additionally, the scammer could steal personal information such as a Social Security number or bank account information. So be cautious when visiting websites related to immigration services or government agencies. Always double check the web address and ensure the website is official by looking for the “.gov” domain extension. 

Green card lottery scams: Immigrants hoping to obtain permanent residency in the U.S. through the Diversity Visa Lottery program are often targeted by scammers looking for money or personal information. The scammers use tactics such as giving false promises of guaranteed selection, or expedited processing, in exchange for high fees or personal information. Or scammers may pose as government officials, immigration consultants, or organizations claiming to have exclusive access or influence over the lottery process. To protect yourself from green card lottery scams, be aware that the official Diversity Visa program does not involve any upfront payments or guarantees. You should only seek information and assistance from trusted sources, such as the U.S. Department of State’s official website, or from legitimate immigration lawyers. 


Employment scams: Employment scams try to trap job seekers, particularly those new to the workforce or unfamiliar with the job market. These scams typically involve fraudsters posing as employers or recruiters offering attractive employment opportunities. The problem is that these “opportunities” often require you to pay upfront fees for training, background checks, or supplies, or to provide sensitive personal information. Be suspicious about job offers that seem too good to be true, require upfront payment, or demand personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank details early in the process. Legitimate employers will not ask for money upfront and will have secure methods for candidates to submit necessary information. Be sure to research the company and verify the job offer before sharing sensitive information. 

Understanding scams targeting immigrants will help you take proactive steps to protect yourself and safeguard your finances. Visit and enter “scam” in the search bar to learn more. 

Recognizing signs of rental scams 

Finding an affordable apartment in Maine is hard, and renters face a lot of competition from others who also are looking for rentals. By targeting vulnerable people with rental scams, the scammers take advantage of the housing crunch and the stress it causes people. In an “imposter scam,” a fraudster pretends to be a landlord, property manager, or real estate agent in an attempt to steal money from people who are hoping to rent an apartment.  

If you are in the market for a new place to call home, “red flags” are warning signals or signs. Look out for red flags like these:  

Pressure to immediately sign a lease  

Legitimate landlords, property managers, or rental agents won’t pressure hopeful renters to act quickly. Urgency is a warning sign of a possible scam. Scammers want you to act quickly and make payments without taking the time to think through a situation. 

Low-quality listing  

A written apartment listing that is full of grammatical errors, or with odd formatting, might be a scam. Low-quality photos also are a red flag. Be suspicious if the quality of photos is low, or if the listing doesn’t have multiple photos taken from different perspectives and possibly a slideshow or video as well. A scammer can easily make a listing with a few photos they’ve found online, even if there is no apartment for rent. 

Unusual payment method required 

If potential renters are asked to send a payment via a wire transfer, prepaid card, or cryptocurrency, do not do it. These methods are nearly untraceable, and once the money is sent, it’s usually gone for good. A legitimate landlord will not ask you to send those types of payments, especially if you haven’t toured the property or signed a lease. 

Not available for showings 

If the agency or landlord who listed the rental says they’re not available to meet in person, that’s another red flag. Legitimate landlords will make time to meet the renter. And, as a potential renter, you do meet with the landlord, be sure to see the property before signing a lease or sending any money. If the landlord suggests simply walking around the outside of the apartment instead of going in, that’s a red flag, too; in this case, leave and stop pursuing that apartment. In rental scams, often the person advertising the apartment won’t have access to the property.  

Too good to be true 

If the apartment’s monthly price is far less than similar rentals in the surrounding area,be suspicious. Whenever a price looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

Bottom line 

You can take steps to protect yourself from  rental scams: verify an address to be sure the property actually exists, always request a tour; speak and meet with the property owner; be wary of unusual payment requests; trust your instincts. If something seems off, thoroughly research the apartment and the landlord. By keeping an eye out for warning signs like these, you can safely and securely navigate the rental market, ensuring that your next rental experience is a positive one. 

Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. Our aim is to share information that will help innocent people protect themselves from being victimized by bad actors trying to get their money. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].

Story of an employment scam 

John is excited to start the Virtual Personal Assistant Job for which he was recently hired. He saw the opportunity posted on the school job board and believed it was a perfect fit. Many of his peers have gotten good jobs from the school job board, and this seemed like his opportunity. The hours were flexible, the job paid well, and he would work for a reputable company he recognized and liked. Although he was nervous during the Zoom interview, the interviewer was friendly and polite. 

  At no point did John think he was being tricked and that the person he was talking to was only interested in stealing his money. Everything seemed so professional and legitimate. John even received an offer letter with the company logo on it, and there was a work contract to sign to make his employment official. But there was another item included in the envelope he received from the employer that was different than for other job offers John had received in the past.  

  A check was made out in his name for a few thousand dollars with instructions to deposit it into his bank account. The check was issued from the company’s finance department, and the funds were apparently intended for purchasing supplies required for the job. 

  John followed the employer’s instructions and deposited the check into his bank account. Then he immediately went to a website the employer told him to go to and purchased the items the company said he needed for the job. 

  A few days later, John received a call from his bank informing him about a fraudulent check he had deposited into his account. Unfortunately, the check from his new employer was fake, and the money used to purchase the supplies was now gone from his account. John is responsible for paying the lost money back to the bank. 

What happened and why?  

The fake employer was a scam artist who used a fake website and a fraudulent check to steal money from John. Even though the job posting appeared alongside legitimate job opportunities, it wasn’t real. The offer letter and job contract that John received in the mail were designed to trick him into thinking he was applying for a real job. 

  Checks are not a guarantee of money. When a person receives a check, it is only a promise that the money is real. Only after a check clears the financial institution, which can take several days, is the money from a check guaranteed. The check had not yet cleared when John purchased items from the fake website, and when John bought the items, the scammer received real money through the website he had created for this purpose. 

Preventing employment scams 

  1. Be cautious about accepting a position without meeting an employer in person, even if it’s a work-from-home position. 
  1. Be cautious when a new employer sends you a check to buy items. This activity is unusual. 
  1. If a job seems too good to be true, it probably is, so be cautious. It could be an employment scam. 
  1. If an employer asks you to notify them when you deposit their check, be cautious because this could be a sign that you are being scammed. 

What to do if you think you’re a fraud victim or might be getting scammed? 

  1. Call your bank. 
  1. Report the scam to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling (877) FTC-HELP / (877) 382-4357 or online at
  1. Contact local law enforcement. 
  1. Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at This is the nation’s central hub for reporting cybercrime. 

Preventing identity theft 

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another individual’s personal or financial information without their permission, typically for economic gain. The stolen information can include details such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, credit card numbers, financial account information, passwords, and other sensitive data. Reports of identity theft have grown exponentially in the past few years, with over 1.1 million reports filed through the Federal Trade Commission’s website in 2022. 

Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their ways of stealing personal information, which can be obtained through stolen mail, data breaches, computer viruses, or lost or stolen wallets. Also, fraudsters might see and record card numbers or PINs during transactions, or use card skimmers – a device that steals information at places like gas pumps and ATMs. Becoming a victim of identity theft can lead to financial loss, a damaged credit score, legal troubles, emotional distress, a loss of reputation, and more. To minimize the risk of falling victim to identity theft, consider doing the following: 

Safeguard physical records 

Identity thieves can do a lot of financial harm with a lost or stolen wallet, mail, or documents people throw away, so safeguard important documents at home or in a safe deposit box at a bank. These include your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, financial account statements, and tax documents. All these documents should be stored in a locked safe. If you are throwing away any documents with personal information on them, first tear them up or shred them. Sensitive materials such as account statements, credit applications or offers, insurance forms, medical statements, checks, and utility bills can be a goldmine for thieves who find them in the trash. 

Additionally, collect your mail daily. If an identity thief is willing to steal sensitive data out of the garbage, they also are likely willing to steal sensitive data out of a mailbox. Consider signing up for the U.S. Postal Service’s Informed Delivery, which will notify you ahead of time with a digital preview of items being delivered – that way you’ll know if something is missing. If you are going to be away from home for a while, sign up for the post office’s Hold Mail service. If you use this tool, the USPS will safely hold your mail at the local post office until you return home, for up to 30 days. 

Enable two-factor authentication 

Two-factor authentication is a way to safeguard your identity on all your accounts. By adding two-factor authentication, you can only access your account after entering your username and password, then by completing another prompt, such as entering a code you receive by text or email, or by scanning fingerprints. Without these, a fraudster can’t access your accounts. 

Don’t overshare on social media 

Social media platforms are treasure troves for identity thieves. Not only do people commonly share their full name and date of birth on social media, but they often share updates on their whereabouts and interactions with family members. Identity thieves can then use this public information to guess the answers to common security questions or passwords. 

Monitor statements and credit reports 

Taking the time to regularly review credit card and financial account statements is important. If a fraudster somehow ends up with your credit card number or account information, they could start making charges. A common tactic is to make small charges at first to see if they can get away with it. After that, they may start increasing the charge amounts or just continue to tally up small purchases – hoping that the victim never notices. If you notice something suspicious when reviewing a statement, call your financial institution or credit card provider right away. They will walk you through the steps needed to lessen or eliminate the impact of identity theft. 

Also monitor your credit report. By going to, you can get a free report every 12 months from each major credit bureau – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Checking reports can show you where your credit stands, ensure your credit information is accurate, allow you to respond to changes quickly, and give your insight on how it can be improved. If you look at your report and suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can report the situation through and make a recovery plan. 

Freeze credit 

When you freeze your credit, nobody (not even you) can open an account, apply for a loan, or get a new credit card in your name without first unfreezing it. To freeze your credit, contact each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are online, mail-in, or telephone options for freezing credit. It’s free, it has no impact on credit scores, and you can unfreeze their credit at any time. If you aren’t actively shopping for a credit card or loan, freezing your credit provides good protection against identity theft. 

Bottom Line 

Preventing identity theft is vital for protecting individual rights, privacy, and financial well-being, and applying the tips outlined above can help keep you from becoming a victim of fraud. 

Welcome to the first of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. We are sharing information to help protect you from those who might be trying to get your money by illegal means. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].  

Part One

How to recognize a scam before it happens 

In 2022, Americans lost over $8 billion to scams. Why are scammers so successful? It’s because they are experts at looking and sounding trustworthy and smart. These scammers also know the deepest desires of their victims and use this knowledge to their advantage. 

The top five scams in 2022 were imposter scams; online shopping scams; prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; investment-related reports; and business and job opportunities. 

  The best line of defense to protect against scams is recognizing red flags – signs that a potential scam is about to happen. Below is a list of red flags to be aware of. 

1. Unsolicited communications: Beware of unsolicited calls, emails, or messages claiming to be from banks, government agencies, service providers, or well-known companies. A call like this could be from an imposter. Legitimate institutions usually only contact individuals with prior notice. If you get a suspicious call, hang up and call the caller back. But first verify the number. Do not hit redial. 

  2. Urgent requests for money: Scammers often create a sense of urgency, pressuring victims to make quick decisions. These requests typically use unconventional payment methods like gift cards or wire transfers. Legitimate businesses will provide ample time and multiple options for payment. 

  3. Too-good-to-be-true offers: If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers may promise guaranteed loans, high-return investments, or lottery winnings to entice victims to put down money. Thorough research is crucial when investing money. 

  4. Requests for personal information: Legitimate organizations have secure procedures for handling sensitive information and won’t ask for it via email or over the phone. It’s essential to be extremely careful with personal information. Sharing details like passwords, verification codes, or pin numbers can lead to a scammer gaining access to a bank account.  

  5. Poor communication: Look out for communication filled with grammatical errors, unofficial email addresses, or unsecured websites (those without “https” in the URL). These are signs of potential scams. 

  6. Employment scams: Employment scams are a common trap for job seekers, particularly those new to the workforce or unfamiliar with the job market. These scams typically involve fraudsters posing as employers or recruiters offering attractive employment opportunities. The catch is that these “opportunities” often require the job seeker to pay upfront fees for training, background checks, or supplies, or they may be asked to provide sensitive personal information. To recognize these scams, individuals should be wary of job offers that seem too good to be true, require upfront payment, or demand personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank details early in the process. Legitimate employers will not ask for money up front and will have secure methods for candidates to submit necessary information. Always research the company and verify the job offer before proceeding with any commitment. 

  7. Immigration threats: Some scammers specifically target immigrants, posing as immigration authorities and threatening legal consequences unless a fee is paid. 

Frauds and scams are similar, but different 

For most people, earning enough money to live on is hard work, and protecting it is key to maintaining financial security. The last thing anyone wants is for their money to be stolen from them by scammers and fraudsters. Being able to recognize the signs of scams and frauds – the red flags –  is essential in safeguarding one’s hard-earned money. Understanding the differences between kinds of schemes can be helpful too. Here are some practical tips to help people avoid falling victim to deceitful practices. 


Fraud is financial theft, and refers to deceptive and dishonest activities carried out with the intention of gaining financial or personal benefits – all while breaking the law. Examples of fraud include unauthorized use of someone else’s credit or debit card, stealing someone’s identity and opening accounts in their name, and taking over an unsuspecting person’s financial accounts. Fraud is more difficult to protect yourself from than scams, as fraud happens without people being aware. However, regularly keeping an eye on financial accounts for suspicious activity can help you spot irregular activity quickly, and stop it from continuing. 


A scam is financial theft with one’s permission or knowledge. Scams are tricks designed to persuade people to believe false information or promises, with the goal of gaining their money, their personal information, or other valuables. Scammers often manipulate their victims by exploiting their trust. Examples of scams include people pretending to be debt collectors, offering fake investment opportunities, or promising fake lottery or prize winnings. For example, a scammer could mail, call, text, or email you and say you’ve won a prize through a lottery or sweepstakes, and then ask you to pay an upfront fee to receive the rest of the money. But eventually the victim discovers there is no prize. The scammer simply wanted quick money from the victim. One of the most important ways to avoid being preyed upon is by staying informed about the latest scams. Investigating anything that seems suspicious before participating is key to avoiding being scammed. 

To avoid becoming a victim 

Be Cautious – Be cautious about sharing personal or financial information with others, whether online or offline. Sensitive information, such as banking information, passwords, Social Security numbers, addresses, and phone numbers should not be shared with strangers, whether they are unfamiliar callers, email senders, or from unfamiliar websites. Sensitive information should be carefully protected. 

Strengthen security – Use strong, unique passwords for each online account and use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Two-factor authentication is an extra security step in the process of logging into an account: you enter either your username or email address, followed by your password. However, instead of then being granted access to your account, you are required to confirm your identity via another specified method. For example, you may receive a text message or an email with a one-time code that must be entered to complete the login process. Other two-factor authentication methods include biometric information, such as fingerprint or facial recognition scanning. Two-factor authentication can feel annoying, since it requires an extra step, but it protects sensitive information.  

 Resist pressure to take immediate action – Being asked to act quickly is a warning sign of a potential scam. Scammers want people to act quickly and make payments without taking the time to think through a situation. Honest organizations will give people plenty of time to make a decision, not pressure them to spend their money right away. 

Avoid unusual payment methods – If an unfamiliar person or business asks you to send a payment via a wire transfer, prepaid card, or cryptocurrency, do not do it. These methods are nearly untraceable, and once the money is sent, it’s usually gone for good. 

Develop awareness – Regularly educate yourself about the latest tactics being used by fraudsters and scammers. Common frauds and scams are regularly shared on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website. Keeping up with circulating attempts to steal money can help you spot common warning signs and red flags that might indicate a fraudulent attempt to obtain your financial or personal information before it happens. 

  Trust your instincts – If a scheme seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you are at all suspicious about a proposal, talk with a trusted friend, family member, or your financial institution before spending money. Better safe than sorry. 

Bottom line 

Knowing the difference between frauds and scams is an important part of understanding the full picture in regard to the deceptive practices that exist in today’s world. By educating yourself and being prepared to spot red flags, you can avoid falling victim to fraudsters and scammers. 

Be cautious about housing scams in Maine’s difficult housing market  

By: Oriana Farnham  

This is a hard time to find an apartment in Maine. Our state is facing a housing crisis – there aren’t enough places to live, especially places you can afford. But even if you are urgently looking for safe housing, it’s important to keep an eye out for potential scams.

Look for apartments on reputable websites  

It’s always best to learn of an open apartment from your friends or other people you can trust because you can ask them if the landlord is trustworthy. However, if your friends or others you trust  don’t know of any open apartments, the best place to look for an apartment is on the website of a reputable property management company. For example, Avesta and Port Property list available apartments on their websites.   

It’s also possible to find apartments advertised on websites or social media sites like Facebook, Craigslist, and Zillow. However, be careful when you use these posts. Scammers can advertise for apartments using fake information and fake pictures. Make sure all the information is accurate before agreeing to rent one of those apartments. Ask around in your community to see if people have heard of the landlord and if the landlord is trustworthy and fair.   

Know your rights with application fees.   

Maine just passed a new law that stops landlords from charging application fees. This law will go into effect in October. This new law also stops landlords from charging for background checks unless the landlord gives you a copy of the results from the background check.   

If you look for a new apartment before the new law goes into effect, be careful before agreeing to pay an application fee. Paying the fee doesn’t mean you will get the apartment. Some people pay application fees for a lot of apartments and don’t get approved to rent any of them. Not all landlords charge application fees. Some landlords use the fees to do “credit checks” or “background checks” on tenants, but it’s not required. A typical application fee in Maine will be $50 or less. In Portland, landlords are not allowed to charge more than $30 for an application fee. Be cautious if someone is charging a higher fee.   

Go see the apartment before you agree to rent it.   

It’s very unusual for a landlord not to show you an apartment before you agree to rent it. You should always ask to see the apartment first. If the landlord says it’s not possible, ask the landlord why. Even if other tenants are still living there, the landlord has the right to take you into the apartment to show it to you. If the landlord won’t show you the apartment, they may be hiding health and safety problems or other problems in the apartment or building.    

Don’t pay the landlord any money until you’ve signed a lease.   

Most landlords in Maine will charge a “security deposit” and possibly first or last month’s rent before you move in. It’s unusual for a landlord to charge a fee to “hold” the apartment. You should not pay the landlord anything until they’ve signed a lease with you.   

  A lease is a contract to rent an apartment for a certain amount of time – usually a year. In Maine, you can rent an apartment without a lease. This is called a “tenancy at will.” However, it’s best to ask the landlord for a lease. If the landlord refuses to sign a lease with you, it is very important to confirm that you are dealing with a trustworthy landlord by checking with friends or other community members. Some scammers pretend to offer an apartment, collect a security deposit or other charges, and then disappear with the tenant’s money.   

Take time to understand the lease before you sign.   

Leases usually have complicated legal language and they can be hard to read and understand. It’s OK to ask the landlord for some time to look it over with an interpreter or your community resources before you sign.   

Stay alert during your housing search! You can learn more about your rights as a tenant in Maine by calling Pine Tree Legal Assistance or reading their self-help guides, or contact us at Maine Equal Justice through our website or by calling us at (207) 626-7058.