Don’t Let Rental Scams Ruin Your Housing Search

Rental scams are a growing problem, and they prey on the hopes and anxieties of those who are doing nothing more than trying to find their new home. And with the cost of living and real estate increasing more and more every year, it can feel like a breath of fresh air when you find a good deal.

After spending weeks browsing listings and then finally finding the perfect apartment or house at an incredible price, you would probably be excited, relieved, and ready to move forward. But before you send that deposit, take a moment to think about the offer you’re presented with and if it’s too good to be true. Otherwise, you might be walking straight into a scam.

Understanding the Scammer’s Playbook

There are many different types of rental scams, but let’s look at the most common ones you need to be on the lookout for:

  • The “too good to be true” deal.  Rent that is significantly lower than what’s typical for similar properties is almost always a scam.  Scammers usually try to justify the low price by claiming they need to rent the place out quickly due to a job change, relocation, or family situation. This tactic preys on both your desire for a bargain and any empathy you may feel for the supposed landlord.
  • The non-existing property: These listings will have beautiful, professionally shot photographs and amenities that seem incredible for the price. But actually, the property doesn’t exist. Scammers often steal photos and descriptions from legitimate rentals and real estate listings for homes that are for sale. Their goal is to make you fall in love with a place that you’ll never be able to move into.
  • The “out-of-town” landlord: Saying that the landlord of a property is out of town is the perfect excuse that lets scammers avoid having to show you the property. The scammer is trying to isolate you, prevent you from viewing the property, and pressure you into sending money without even seeing what you’re paying for.
  • High-pressure tactics:  Scammers want to rush you into a decision, so they don’t give you time to think critically. They’ll claim there are many interested renters or the property is about to be rented by someone else. Phrases like “Act now!” or “This won’t last long!”  are designed to make you panic and override your better judgment.

Spotting the Red Flags: Signs of a Potential Scam

A lot of the time people who are looking for a new place to rent are trying to find a property as quickly as possible, which can prevent them from seeing some glaring red flags such as:

  • Limited information. Legitimate landlords and property managers are easily accessible and available for potential renters. Be wary if the listing provides only a generic email address and no phone number.
  • Poor communication: While not every landlord is a grammar expert, emails or texts riddled with obvious spelling errors, strange punctuation, or inconsistent capitalization are a big red flag. 
  • Requests for payment before viewing. Never send money under any circumstances before seeing the property in person and meeting a verified landlord or property manager. All potential renters have the right to view a property, but scammers always look for excuses to prevent this.
  • Sketchy payment methods. Don’t use payment methods that are difficult to trace or offer no buyer protection. Wire transfers, gift cards, cryptocurrency, and cash apps should never be used for rental deposits or initial payments. Reputable landlords and companies will use established payment methods like checks, credit card transactions, and secure online platforms.

The Harsh Consequences of Rental Scams

A rental scam will take an emotional toll on anyone, but the consequences of this scam are much greater than just not having a place to live. There are many consequences that can come from it, such as:

  • Significant financial loss. Scammers will ask for funds in the form of deposits, first and last month’s rent, application fees, or even fake “holding fees.” When all’s said and done, if you pay all of these fees, you’ll be left with a significant loss.
  • Identity theft: Most scammers will ask for your personal information such as your social security number, banking details, and copies of identification documents. This exposes you to the risk of identity theft, where criminals can use your information to open fraudulent accounts, apply for loans, or commit other crimes in your name.
  • Legal Trouble. In desperate situations, people who’ve fallen victim to a scam have sometimes been forced to take drastic measures themselves. Attempting to sublet a property that wasn’t theirs or breaking into a unit they were scammed into believing was their rental can lead to serious legal consequences.
  • Difficulty finding future housing. In some cases, legitimate landlords and property managers perform background checks and look for references before they approve someone as a renter. If your experience with a scam has led to eviction proceedings or other negative reports, this could lower your chances of renting property in the future.

Final Thoughts

Rental scams can be financially and emotionally devastating, and the best way you can stand one step ahead of the scammers is to stay informed. Don’t forget to always trust your instincts and never rush into a decision, especially if you find a rental property that’s too good to be true.

With a bit of due diligence, you can find your perfect new home without falling prey to these schemes.

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