Chapter 3

How to Spot a Rental Scam

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A Tenant's Guide to Finding an Apartment

How to Spot a Rental Scam

As you’re searching for an apartment, be aware that some listings are fraudulent.

Rental listing scams typically aim to steal money. They will try to get you to send a check for a security deposit or move-in fee without ever seeing the apartment. They keep your money and have no intention of renting a unit to you.

In this chapter of our guide to finding an apartment, we’ll tell you the warning signs to watch out for, ways to prevent being scammed, and what to do if you’re a victim of a fraudulent listing.

How Can You Tell If a Listing is a Scam? 

Below are the warning signs that a listing is a scam:

1. Scammers don’t want to meet you in person. 

It’s a warning sign if the person who replies to your listing says he or she is out of town and cannot meet you. Some scammers might even lie and say they are in the military to avoid setting up a time to meet you.

Good landlords will make sure that they meet you. Renting to someone is a big decision and requires trusting that that person will follow rules in the lease. Good landlords will want to meet you to see if you’re the type of tenant who will pay rent on time and take care of their property. On the flip side, scammers typically do not want to meet you, as they don’t want you to be able to report them.

2. Scammers want you to move in without ever seeing the property. 

Even if you meet someone in person who claims to be the landlord, you should absolutely see the property before signing a lease or sending money. It’s easy for someone to say they have a property and have an online listing; you need to see the property in person to make sure the place is really available and the person really owns it.

3. Scammers ask you to mail or wire money. 

Scammers will ask for money up front. You should not pay a landlord any money until after you’ve signed a lease. Scammers will often try to get you to send money without ever meeting you, showing you the property, or having you sign a lease.

Ways to Avoid a Rental Scam

Meet the landlord in person. You need to meet the person you are renting from. Will you work well together? Does he or she seem friendly and motivated to rent the unit to you?

See the property in person. This can be a time-consuming step, but you need to see if you want to live in the space before you sign a lease agreement. By seeing the property in person, you’ll also meet the landlord.

What Should You Do If You’re a Victim of Fraud? 

Contact local authorities. If they successfully find the person, they’ll prosecute and may be able to return any money you may have lost.

Contact the listing website where you found the listing so they take it down.

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is responsible for protecting consumers, specifically when it comes to how a business handles your personal information, or if an individual is falsely claiming to run a business. You can report a scam to the FTC here.

File a complaint with the IC3. The IC3 is the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a government agency that makes it easy for individuals to report crime that takes place online. They work with the FBI and local authorities to help manage and solve internet scams, such as rental listing scams.

Always See the Apartment Before Applying 

The best way to avoid a scam is to see the apartment in person and meet the landlord. Plus, it’s an important step in your search for an apartment. You want to find a beautiful apartment that perfectly meets your needs. Continue reading below to find out questions to ask at apartment showings.


Also published on Medium.

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