Renters using TikTok to learn identity, document fraud

Multifamily owners concerned about proliferation of application fraud

Renters Using TikTok to Learn Identity, Document Fraud
Camden Property Trust;s Ric Campo (Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University, Getty)

The clock is ticking on tenants exploiting social media to scam apartment owners.

Apps such as TikTok are proving instructive for renters committing identity and document fraud, Bisnow reported. Fraudulent housing applications are starting to impact the bottom line of major multifamily landlords.

Fraudsters are learning tactics on TikTok and other social platforms, where videos are posted that essentially demonstrate how to commit document and identity fraud. They take the lessons to typically seek approval for units — which require proof of identity — move in and then neglect to pay rent. When landlords try to evict them, they disappear into the night as cases crawl through the courts.

“Our members would say there’s a cottage industry here of people learning about these kinds of tactics and learning about these kinds of fraud,” said Paula Cino, a vice president of the National Multifamily Housing Council. Pages on TikTok, X, Reddit and beyond are causing problems.

Landlords have expressed disappointment with the response from law enforcement as a rise in leasing through online platforms has helped boost online real estate fraud.

Internet-based real estate crimes soared from $213 million in 2020 to $397 million last year, according to the FBI.

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Ric Campo, chief executive officer of Camden Property Trust, was the victim of identity fraud over the summer as someone tried to rent a unit from a competitor in Charlotte, wrecking Campo’s credit score. Campo referenced renter fraud frequency during a recent earnings call, as did the CEO of Mid-America Apartment Communities, who singled out the Atlanta market as a place of concern. Other places where the fraud is more common include Houston, Los Angeles and Dallas.

The chief administrative officer for American Landmark Apartments said last year that 40 percent of the applications the company received monthly are fraudulent. A survey from Snappt last year found fraud in the application process as reported by landlords increased from 66 percent pre-pandemic to 85 percent.

Campo acknowledged the difficulty of pursuing these fraudsters.

“How do you pursue criminal fraud against somebody when you have no idea who they are?” Campo asked.

TikTok bans attempts to defraud or scam users on the platform, but makes exceptions for content deemed to be educational, documentary or counterspeech.

Holden Walter-Warner

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