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Avoid Rental Fraud Victimization

When you have your sights set on an apartment or house to rent, you apply online and pay the deposit. Then communication from the property manager stops and despite your calls, you either get the run around or no response at all. You soon realize that the listing was never real, and you’ve just become the victim of a rental scam

An infographic thoroughly explaining how to avoid being a victim of rental fraud.
Rental Fraud - Infographic

Renting scams are not uncommon and can happen to even the most experienced renters. The sad reality is that more than 5 million renters in the US have suffered financial loss because of a false listing. You could lose a couple of thousand dollars on a deposit or the first month’s rent if you happen to connect to a fraudster.

Because we look for apartments to rent or even a house to buy online, this makes us more susceptible to a scam. Con artists and fraudsters use technology in convincing ways, so we aren’t aware of a fake advert until it is too late.

The purpose of this guide is to help you identify a renting scam before you sign any paperwork, deposit money, or waste your precious time!

Let’s start by learning what a rental scam is…

A white man with a black background. He has on a black hoodie and has a comedy/tragedy mask covering half of his face, and you can see his eyes.
Don't get fooled by a devil in sheep's clothing.

What is a Rental Scam?

A rental scam is typically a false online advert for a property to rent. It is very appealing and looks authentic including images of a property and a private contact or even branding for an agency. Unfortunately, it is designed to lure you in and usually includes low rent, low deposits, and other deals that many renters would find interesting.

A man with earphones on a several computers, looks like he is gathering data or hacking some software.
Pay attention to what is offered in the listing, does it make sense?

This is not to say that all adverts offering very low rent or rental deals are fake, not at all! The scam advertisement is considered too good to be true!

False Listings During the Pandemic

Unfortunately, the pandemic hasn’t helped matters at all when it comes to slowing these types of fraudsters down; in fact, these types of fake listings seem to be on the rise! More people, of all ages, are being preyed upon during a very vulnerable time in their lives.

Not only are renters being targeted but property buyers too. Scammers have been following the property market trend and targeting people who are looking for affordable rentals, short-term rentals, and real estate deals.

In 2020, more than 13 000 renters fell victim to online listing scams. As these numbers continue to climb, the best step you can take is to recognize the signs of a false rental listing, so you don’t become a victim.

Let’s take a closer look at an example of an online listing scam.

Renter Caught By Fake Apartment Listing

John was searching for an apartment to rent after sharing a place with his roommate for some time. He visited some of the more popular websites and came across a Michigan apartment that he decided to apply for. The so-called agent moved the application process along pretty quickly and John decided to sign the “lease” (which was fake) and pay the security deposit into the provided account. When he contacted the agent to meet at the apartment that very week, his calls were ignored, and nobody showed up to the appointment. Even after contacting an authentic rental agent in the area, John was unable to recuperate the funds that he lost.

John had become a victim of an online rent scam.

A silver set of keys in a wooden door.
You can find the perfect place to rent when you know what to look for.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Some of the Signs You Should Look for in Your Next Listing

Lower than Average Rent

If you see an advert with low rent in a good area, it may be an attractive opportunity to save; however, significantly lower prices are usually an indication that something is off.

If you find an affordable apartment, the first step is to compare the rent to similar properties in the neighborhood. If you notice the price is far too low for the current market rates, it could be a scam.

Viewings are Stalled or Not Allowed

This is one of the first and most alarming signs that you could be getting scammed! Every single rental property should be available to be viewed in person. You have the right to inspect the home before you transfer any deposits or rent. If the contact person keeps delaying the appointment or refuses a viewing, please move on to a different listing.

Cash Transfers Requested

You haven’t even signed the lease and the person managing the listing is already asking you to transfer funds for the deposit and rent. They will also request a cash transfer rather than payment by credit or debit card. This makes it harder to stop the transaction or get your money refunded once the transfer is completed.

a lady on a laptop with a debit card in her hand.
Don’t be too hasty to pay that deposit!

The Landlord is Out of the Country

This is surprisingly a common scam tactic. When you find an apartment or house you are interested in renting, the landlord will suggest that they aren’t in the country, but you can place a rental or holding deposit until they return or have someone assist further. Unfortunately, once you pay the requested sum of money, they disappear and are impossible to trace.

If a landlord cannot meet you in person, they will usually schedule an appointment with a realtor or a trusted family member.

The Process is Rushed

When you submit your application to rent, the landlord follows due process which can take a few days. There’s a screening process, the presentation of a lease, and administrative matters that are followed very carefully before payments are requested. When a listing is considered a scam, all applicants are rushed. You’ll notice that the contact person places pressure on you to sign a contract and make a deposit. It’s incredibly rushed and you may have an inkling that something isn’t quite right.

a crowd of people in a subway moving extremely fast.
Trust your instincts if the process feels rushed.

The Listing is Poorly Worded

Because the advert is rushed and individuals are not authorities in the market, the listing doesn’t read very well. Read a few ads written by authentic agencies and landlords and compare the suspected advert to these. You will notice quite a difference in the description of the post. Also, look at the contact details. A professional will have their full business contact available. If you can’t find a number, email and physical address ask the lister for these details. If they refuse, this is a major red flag.

Tenants aren’t Screened

A legitimate landlord will have a screening process to help them pick tenants who meet the requirements. When listers are out to scam you, they aren’t concerned about screening processes or interviewing their potential tenants because all they want is your money.

Check the Lease

Landlords who are interested in the rights of their tenants will always issue a complete lease that is carefully detailed. When you’re sent a lease, read it thoroughly. There should be no incomplete sentences or terms that don’t make sense. Everything should be clear. If you aren’t sure about the authenticity of the lease, you could always have a real estate agent or lawyer read over the lease for you.

A digital background with the word lease in green and a brown digital pencil under the word.
Read the details of your lease.

Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself

It’s extremely challenging to prevent losing your time, personal information, or hard-earned cash to a fraudster online, but with a little awareness, you can equip yourself to spot some of the tell-tale signs that a listing may not be authentic. We share some of those signs below:

  • You cannot view the property in person

  • You cannot meet the landlord in person or deal with them directly

  • There is not business contact information

  • The advert is not properly worded

  • You are pressured or rushed to sign documents and pay a deposit

  • Limited images

  • Requests upfront holding or security deposits

  • Emphasizes cash transfer or suspicious payment methods

Renting can be made easy and rewarding when you are aware of the process, and you know what to look for in your next home.

Becoming a victim of rent fraud is devastating and frustrating but by taking your time to identify authentic adverts on renting websites such as Zillow, Craigslist, or even, you can help yourself and friends or family prevent the associated losses.

a lady with her hands in a heart shape aimed towards the sky.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from a listing scam.

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Austin Abrams
Austin Abrams
Dec 05, 2023

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