The online photos were incredible, the landlord couldn’t have been nicer and the price was below going rates. You put down a deposit right away because, in this market, you need to act fast. Be weary of rental scams if it’s too good to be true.
In reality, the place is a dump that looks nothing like the photos. The landlord who has been great at texting and emailing is nowhere to be found. You’ve been scammed, and you’re definitely not alone.
The stress of finding an apartment is real – the search, the competition, the upfront money to secure a place… most renters avoid moving for these reasons. And, in some cases, the rental process goes from merely annoying to illegal. While most rental listings are legitimate, rental scams are out there, and not always easy to spot.
Below are the five most common rental scams out there and suggestions for how to avoid them.
The Landlord Only Communicates by Text or Email
Landlords or brokers who refuse to meet in person and show you the place have something to hide. They’re either just posing as the landlor of the property or the place isn’t for rent.
If they cannot meet you, a legitimate landlord or broker will send someone in their place. It’s a definite red flag when they won’t speak with you on the phone or even meet with you.
A legitimate landlord might write up a compelling description of a real vacant apartment and posts the listing online. A scammer can easily tamper with this listing significantly lowering the price to generate mass interest in a competitive market. This is known as the “clone scam.” It’s a trick especially aimed at someone who’s busy or renting from out of town and is willing to put down money before seeing the rental unit.
If the ad has photos and you really want to make sure that it is not just stock photos, try TinEye. It “crawls” the web for the images you uploaded to their site and tell you where they found it.
Google Reverse Image Search tool can also detect photos that are used fraudulently. For a quicker search, open your Chrome Browser. Right-click on the image. Click “Search Google for Image.”
Also, be wary of listings that are riddled with poor spelling or grammar as they may be coming from overseas. They may have cloned a description and added text that doesn’t make sense.
What all of these “agents” are doing is to get you to make a deposit or pay an application fee on a place that may not even exist.
Property Has Incorrect or No Traceable Information
Sometimes the listing posted online doesn’t even exist. The scam here is that the landlord or broker is trying to get you to send them money before you realize that. Don’t fall for that trick.
Check the apartment address to see if you can find the same listing in other cities or states, as some shady listings are posted in multiple cities. You can use Google maps to search the property address. Verify and survey the area using the Browse Street View Images option.
If you are nearby, take a drive around the area and see if the property exists. You can also do a Google search if you are out of state or not able to physically see the rental property.
An easy way to find out if the rental is legit is to perform a quick search of the broker or property’s phone number. Another way is to visit the county’s or tax assessor’s website to verify who lives or own the property. The information is available to the public.
An Absentee Landlord
Look-out for a vague explanation as to why they can’t meet with you. Why the room is available. Whose property it is, or why they’re offering it for such low monthly rental, etc.
I’m sure you’re aware of the sob stories ploy: A scam artist finds a vacant property because it’s either bank-owned, a vacant vacation home, or maybe even rented by the scammer who plans to pull off this scheme several times over.
They then insist they’re out of the country, sick, or otherwise detained. But still wants a security deposit. Beware! Regardless of where they live, a legitimate landlord or property manager will be willing to arrange for someone to meet you and show you inside the unit.
The Landlord Wants Money Up Front
Never, never wire a deposit. If they ask you to send money to hold the space for you via wire or third-party (overseas), DON’T DO IT! Before you make any kind of payment, do a little research to make sure the broker or landlord is licensed. Check if there have been any complaints about them.
When it comes time to put money down, never use a payment method that cannot be tracked or reversed. Use a credit card, because you can dispute that charge if the property turns out to be a scam.
Only when you establish the legitimacy of the person’s identity should you share your personal information to proceed with the transaction.
In one popular scam, the person posting the fake listing asks to check your credit via a link they provide before you ever see the place. The link goes back to a credit reporting company that uses a referral program, the scammer makes a few bucks, and you still have nowhere to live.
If the broker won’t accept a credit card — and many won’t — pay in a way that can be tracked. Make a copy of your check. Get a receipt for any cash deposits or payments. And never hand over the first month’s rent before you get the apartment keys.
If you’re renting through a website, it helps to inspect the browser’s address bar. Ensure that it shows HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) as part of it’s web address. Meaning data exchanges between your browser and the website itself is encrypted.
Also, research about the website and find legitimate reviews about it to establish it’s trustworthiness.
Report to the police if you been scammed. If you suspect a listing is a scam, report it to the hosting site.
You can also use the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker to report what happened and make sure others don’t get cheated too.