What could be worse than paying a large sum of money to secure a rental property, packing all your stuff to move, getting excited about your new home…and then finding out that you really didn’t rent the place?
Now you’re out all that time, effort, and money—and you have nowhere to live.
Rental scams, unfortunately, happen more often than you might think. Because it’s easy for anyone to advertise an apartment or house they have for rent online, you might not know whether the poster is legitimate.
Scammers typically do one of two things, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- They take the photos and description from a real ad, change the contact information to their own, and place the doctored ad on another website. You see the ad and call or email the scammer instead of the real owner or manager.
- They make up a listing that doesn’t really exist, or they list a property that isn’t for rent. You call about that nonexistent property.
The scam, in both scenarios, is designed get you to pay first month’s rent and security deposit. Once you do, the scammer is long gone, with your money. Here are some ways to avoid those kinds of rental scams.
Related: Skirting a scam
1. Don’t wire money
The goal of rental scams is to try to get you to give money before you see the rental in person. A scammer’s preferred method is usually to ask you to wire the money. Why? Because wiring money works the same as handing over cash. (Oh, and don’t give cash!) You can’t stop payment or reverse charges when you wire money.
Never wire money to strangers.
2. Do an internet search
Search the listing address. You should find the same name of the owner or manager on every site. If you find a random listing or two with a different name attached to it, you can probably assume the listing with the different name is not legit.
3. Be firm
Scammers can be persuasive. Their job, after all, is getting people to part with their money. So con artists involved in rental scams often use high-pressure tactics to get you to pay right away. They usually tell people that if they don’t act immediately, they will lose out on a great deal. It’s not always a scam to rent a place sight unseen, but the practice is risky. It’s best to see a property before paying any money.
4. Be suspicious of a low price
It’s always fun and rewarding to get a deal, so when you find what appears to be a great bargain on a rental property, you might be tempted to plop down your money fast before someone else takes it. Or at the very least, you might contact this ad just to see if it’s really true. Once you do, however, the scammer will try to get money or at least some personal information from you in an effort to steal your identity. Unfortunately, if the deal looks too good to be true, that’s a waning sign of a scam.
5. Be suspicious of no screening
You know who’s interested in looking at your rental application, background check, and credit history? Real landlords who want to make sure you can pay the rent. You know who isn’t? Scammers who just want to take some of your money upfront and run. If you aren’t required to fill out an application and don’t need to agree to a background and credit check, be leery.
The right way to find a rental
- View the property.
- Apply, if you like the property. (Note that you can apply for a property before you visit it in person. You might need to do this in a competitive rental market. But the application fee is the only money you should pay upfront.)
- Meet the landlord or property manager.
- Sign a lease.
- Pay move-in fees, which are typically the first month’s rent and security deposit. Look up your state’s laws to find out whether your state has limits on move-in fees.
- Meet with your landlord or manager and get the keys.
Although you can reduce the chances of being a scam victim, you can still be scammed. If you are, call the police. You can also report what happened to you to the FTC.
And please share your story or any tips you have to avoid scams in the comments.