Renting an apartment is a stressful process — worrying about amenities, budget, additional fees and location. You can come across an apartment listing that has it all and in the excitement, you may not see all the red flags.
But stay smart. In this day and age, rental scams and fraudulent listings can look like the real thing until you look closer.
A 2016 research study by NYU found that Craigslist failed to identify about half of the fake rental listings on its site.
Fake credit report links and cloned listings were the main suspicious scam listings found. Scam listings can display watermarked photos, high fees and expensive background checks.
Read on to learn how to spot those fake listings and protect yourself while you're looking for your next home. Once you've found your dream home, stay alert for moving scams as well.
Look out for the common signs of rental fraud
Many fraudulent listings may seem legit, so at times it can be difficult to tell what's real or not. Keep your eyes open for these warning signs that your deal might be too good to be true.
Red flags to avoid
- Apartment Guide is not a broker. Be skeptical of any landlords that mention that Apartment Guide (or any of its affiliates) will be handling the lease transaction. Apartment Guide does not offer payment protection, escrow services or guarantees of any kind.
- Landlord says he can't meet in person or talk on the phone
- The landlord emails you demanding bank account and personal information
- Landlord says he's out of the country or the company renting the unit is currently located outside the country
- There are murky details around the lease terms and timing of signing
- The rent doesn't match those in the area, e.g. too low
- The listing has many grammar and spelling mistakes beyond reasonable
- Uses a third-party contact to finalize the lease and all details, e.g. a relay company
- Landlord demands a money wire via Western Union, Money Gram, cashier's check or another person-to-person transaction app like Zelle immediately
How to protect yourself
- Go with a legitimate rental company as scammers can hijack a listing and change the contact information
- When looking at listings online, look at legitimate rental aggregators
- Be alert for duplicate listings. Scammers can gain access to lockboxes and pose as the owner or the listing's rental agent.
- Avoid any listings that display a monthly rent that's dramatically lower than others in the area. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
- Be careful with your personal information. Do not give out bank account numbers or social security numbers to protect your identity.
- Meet the potential landlord in-person and look up the management company or homeowner's name online to double-check credentials
- Never send your money overseas or through hard-to-trace wiring services like Western Union
- Do not rent an apartment without a proper walkthrough. If you can't, ask a friend to do it for you and confirm the apartment's amenities and current condition.
If you're a victim of a rental scam
Whether you suspect a rental scam or you've been a victim of one, be sure to report the listing and "landlord" to help the authorities catch them. You may not get your money back, but you can try to stop their scam ring by aiding the authorities.
First, contact the local police department to file a report. Contact the site manager if possible to alert them of the fake listing. Then, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
The information contained in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional financial or legal advice as they may deem it necessary.