How to Avoid Rental Scams

Looking for a new home or apartment takes a lot of effort, especially if you don’t currently live in the city where you’re looking for property. Scammers try to take advantage of your stress and confusion.

What Is a Rental Scam?

A rental scam is when somebody poses as a landlord or property owner, and attempts to get money or personal information from people who are interested in their listing. It’s unfortunately common—most people are aware that fake rental postings exist—but awareness isn’t even half the battle.

Scammers make their money by making posts look realistic and trustworthy. To the untrained eye, these scam listings may seem like the real deal. Before you start your search for a new rental property, you need to educate yourself on these scams so that you can identify them and avoid falling victim to one.

Live by these words: Be Skeptical. If it looks so good that it’s hard to believe, then don’t believe it.

Where Are Scams Found?

Rental scams are present just about everywhere you can find listings. They’re most commonly found on the internet, which is also where most people do their home searching. User-regulated sites like Craigslist are ground zero, but that doesn’t mean major real estate aggregators are completely free of scams.

Fewer and fewer people post listings in print, and scammers are less likely to utilize services that require payment in order to post listings, but believe it or not, scams occasionally occur there as well.

If you’re walking through a neighborhood and you see a “for rent” sign on a property, that’s a little more trustworthy as you know for a fact that the property exists. Scammers will not bait people with a property that they actually own, as tracing the scam back to them is relatively simple in those cases.

What are Common Tactics?

Rental scams range from the blatantly obvious to the extremely clever, but the best scammers are always changing their tactics. Here are some of the more commonly used methods.

Copying and Pasting: In order to make a listing look more legitimate, scammers will simply find a real listing, copy it (perhaps slightly altering various details), and repost it as their own. It is fairly common for scammers to lower the price of copied listings.

Posting to Community Sites: It’s easier to post to sites with a less stringent (or non-existent) approval process. Community sites like Craigslist are essentially the hunting grounds for scammers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use these sites at all, but if you do you need to be wary. 

Preying on People’s Emotions: Moving can be an emotional process, sometimes these emotions cause us to make rash decisions. Scammers know this. Many of them develop skills that help them manipulate people’s emotional states. If you’re having a hard time finding a rental property, they’ll step in and pose as your savior. They'll then ask for deposits and rent up front, right then and there.

Former Tenants Posing as LandlordsSometimes the scammer is actually the former tenant of the apartment in question. That way they are able to provide pictures and detailed information of the apartment. This method is riskier for the scammer, but that doesn’t stop everyone. 

Stay up to date

Subscribe to the blog for the latest updates

Red Flag Behaviors

Over-encouraging: They’ll tell you that it’s alright if your credit is terrible. They’ll try to alleviate your concerns, even if you’re unsure. They prey on people who are having trouble finding a rental for ‘X’ reason, and they eliminate ‘X’ from the equation to encourage them.

Overeager: If the landlord is trying their best to push the transaction forward, that’s a red flag. If they’re overly encouraging, or if they’re pushing you to make a decision, you should be wary of them.

Poorly-written listing: If a post has a ton of errors or is hard to read, that's a red flag. A few errors in the listing's description is nothing to worry about, but if the post is practically unintelligible, you should put your guard up.

Sensitive documents: The only thing a landlord can ask you for before showing you a rental property is a photo ID. If they ask you for you social security number or a payment, that’s a red flag.

Money via wire: If the property owner is asking you to send money via Western Union, Venmo or other direct payment apps or another similar service, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. It’s a good rule of thumb to not send money to anyone you don’t know.

Odd email addresses: Many scammers use software to generate email addresses at random, so that they can keep their scams going after one of their emails has been flagged. If you’re emailing with a landlord whose email address seems like a random mash of numbers, it’s probably not legitimate.

No physical address: If you don’t get an address from the listing or the property owner, don’t bother. This is an obvious red flag, but scammers will sometimes make up excuses as to why they can’t give the building number or other parts of the address.

Can’t meet in-person: Scammers are very unlikely to set up personal meetings, and since that’s a fairly common part of real estate transactions, they’ll make up an excuse for why they can’t meet you. Usually they’ll be out of the country for one reason or another. Even if you can’t meet the property owner because of your situation, confirm that they’d be willing to meet you. 

Pro Tips

 - Using a well-known search site doesn’t guarantee that the listing is legitimate.

 - Generally, you should never put money down on a home or apartment if you haven’t seen it in person, especially if you’re using user-regulated sites like Craigslist.

 - Don't rent from anyone you don't trust. 

 - Scammers will often do what they can to maximize their profit. If the security deposit seems high, or they’re asking for more than two months of rent, they might be trying to grab as much cash as they can and run.

 - If you can’t meet in person, arrange a video chat with the landlord. Have them walk around the apartment and show you things. This will show you that they at least have access to the property.

 - Ask for more pictures than the ones that are listed. 

Human Resources Today