Searching for a new rental unit can be a stressful time for many consumers. Unfortunately, scammers often make the housing hunt an even bigger headache by preying on individuals seeking new accommodations. Being aware of common rental scams is an especially good idea at a time when rent prices are sky-high, and competition for affordable housing is fierce.
Rental scams often start with a digital advertisement either for a unit that does not exist, a unit that the poster does not own, or similar situations where potential renters would never be able to actually live in the displayed housing. These scams seek victims’ money in the form of illegitimate application fees or a security deposit on the unit, usually without allowing the respondent to tour the housing in person.
While these scams can be found on websites dedicated to apartment and rental listings, they are more prolific on loosely monitored or peer moderated forums, such as Facebook groups and Craigslist ads. Some common red flags include:
- Either no images of the unit are included in the post or the images don’t fit the listing. While it can be harder to determine the authenticity of images when they do appear in the ad. One thing to look for are photos not matching the advertised unit, such as a large backyard in a city apartment listing.
- Generic descriptions. Landlords typically try to advertise all of their amenities, including the neighborhood and features unique to the area (such as precise public transit stops, school zones, and landmarks). Fraudulent postings often omit specific names of locations and instead use nondescript language like “near bus stops” or “in a good neighborhood.”
- Lists an invalid address or no address at all. Sometimes the address is for a non-housing unit or a unit that is not currently available for rent. Commonly, the listing does not include an address at all and the seller will not provide one upon request.
- The seller is out of town. Once a potential renter responds to one of these ads, the poster usually claims that they are out of town and therefore unable to give a tour of the unit. This doesn’t stop them from asking for a deposit on the place though, which raises the next red flag.
- They push for a deposit. Or an application fee. These criminals try to get their victims’ money ASAP, frequently within minutes of communicating with the potential renter.
Although these fraudsters can add to the frustrations of moving, there are a number of tips you can keep in mind to stay on guard.
- Look closely at any images provided. Search for inconsistencies, either from photo to photo or between the listing and the photo. Additionally, conducting a reverse Google Image search may confirm suspicions if the pictures appear in other, unrelated results.
- Ask for details. If the seller is unable to provide an address, the name of the neighborhood, nearby landmarks, or other critical information, it’s best to look elsewhere.
- Don’t pay until you see the place in person. Going on a tour of your future housing unit can help to determine the listing’s authenticity, in addition to revealing previously non-disclosed issues.
- Wait to provide personal information or payment. Until thorough vetting has taken place, including a tour if possible, hold off on handing over money or sensitive information.
- Search for third-party reviews. Established housing companies often have a reputation that can be easily found online. While the absence of reviews isn’t necessarily a major red flag (especially for smaller buildings and landlords), previous renters can provide great insight before you commit to a move.
- Question abnormally inexpensive listings. Search for similarly-sized listings in the neighborhood of the listing you are considering. If similar rentals near yours are priced significantly higher, your dream rental may be too good to be true.
Be an ally in the fight against fraud!
If you suspect that you or someone you know has become a victim of one of these scams or any other fraud, don’t just delete the message — report it at once to the social media platform. You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate and help put fraudsters behind bars.