Ten Warning Signs a Rental Listing is a Scam
into a new apartment can be an exciting time. It can also be an extremely
nerve-racking moment because of all uncertainty and shifting variables.
Unfortunately, in many cases, listings are aimed at nothing more than
separating apartment hunters from their money.
fret, though. Once you know the common traits of these fraudulent listings,
you’ll be a pro at weeding them out.
1. The listing shows up on different sites with varying contact info
Criminals often copy and paste images and descriptions from desirable listings and then use that information to create a fictitious ad with a lower price. If you see an apartment that looks too good to be true, check for the address on other sites to see if the unit is listed with different contact information, indicating that a scammer is duplicating another unit.
2. The price is absurdly low
Much like with other types of shopping, it’s exhilarating to find a great deal on a place to live. Uncovering a fantastic-looking apartment at a steal of a price can have you eager to lock down the unit as fast as possible. While it’s possible to luck into a total bargain, proceed with caution if the price is well below market rate.
3. They want all your information immediately
If the person who responds when you inquire about an apartment wants your bank account information, social security number, or other sensitive information right away, move on to the next listing you’re interested in. There’s no scenario in which you would have to make your personal data available to a stranger to move the process forward.
4. Being asked to pay anything before seeing the apartment
This one is a red flag the size of an entire apartment building. The ruse takes
on various forms, but the common theme is the supposed property owner wants you
to send them money before you’ve even been to the unit.
The line may be that it’s for a security deposit, credit check, or application fee. But always remember: if you have yet to see the place, you have no idea if it even exists. Scammers will use photos and addresses of real places that aren’t for rent, so those aren’t effective ways to gauge the validity of an ad.
5. You’re asked to pay rent or a security deposit before signing the lease
It’s a great general rule of thumb to never pay out any large sum of money without already having some paperwork that details how much you’re paying and what that money is going toward. Only provide payment to a property owner or manager after you get a lease copy.
6. The payment method is fishy
If it’s demanded at any point in the process that you pay cash, walk away. Wiring money is another deal breaker since you have no recourse for retrieving the money once it’s been collected on the other end. While it may seem a bit old-fashioned, if you can write a check for things like the first month’s rent or the deposit, you’ve not only got the name of a person or entity you’re dealing with, you can stop payment on the check if need be.
7. Everything is rushed
Scams are typically about conning people out of their money as quickly as possible. Getting caught up in this can be easy when you’re anxious to find and secure a place ASAP. If the person you’re dealing with seems ready and willing to skip over key steps—like processing your application or running a credit check—you might be the target of a scam.
8. There’s no one to meet with
A significant number of properties are owned by real estate investors who live overseas or spend a lot of time traveling. However, that doesn’t mean you should agree to anything without having a guided tour of the living space. If it’s impossible to meet up in person, you should, at the very least, be able to get a live video tour during which you can ask questions. If no one is available to show you the place, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere. “You can look at it from the outside” is not an acceptable option.
9. Something major changes
In many markets, units move quickly, and attractive apartments get snatched up in a hurry. But use extra caution if the place you first saw in the listing suddenly becomes a different one—at a higher price—when you’re ready to commit. Sometimes it does happen that the apartment you wanted is no longer available, but be careful you’re not getting pulled into something shady.
10. The lease has missing information
Leases can be tricky, especially if you’re not a lawyer. Sometimes the jargon can be hard to decipher. However, one thing to do for sure is to give the lease a lookover to see if there are any blank spaces. While the lessee might reassure you they’ll fill that part in later, signing a legally binding document that isn’t fully intact is never a good idea.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam, please don’t delay filing a police report. Of course, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get your money back, but if possible, you’ll need a police report as things progress. Additionally, it’s an excellent move to report the criminal activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Federal Trade Commission, and the site listing the apartment so that they can prevent the scammer from preying on others.