How to spot and avoid rental scams
Last updated: January 1
When you're apartment hunting, your focus is typically on finding a great new place in a neighborhood you like. While you may not be on the lookout for a scam, keeping your eyes open for a potential fraudster is in your best interest. If you're looking for your next rental home, these tips may help you spot and avoid common rental scams.
Be Wary of Unusually Low Rent
If you find a place with rent that is well below other apartments in the area, Zillow says this may be an indicator of a fake listing. It's common for scammers to copy and paste from an actual listing into a fraudulent one with a very low rental price, says Trulia. This rental scam is often directed toward people who are moving from out of town and others who put money down sight-unseen because it looks like such a good deal. There is a chance it's the real deal, says Zillow, but proceed with caution.
Do not provide money upfront
If you haven't even seen the place let alone signed a lease, there is no need for you to give the landlord money, says Zillow. If you're asked to pay upfront, Trulia says you should walk away. Be especially careful if a landlord insists on a wire transfer, as it's very difficult to stop a payment that is wired — which is what the scammer is counting on.
Avoid an overeager landlord
When you apply for a rental home, you'll likely be asked for financial information and employment verification, and the landlord may do a background check. So, if a landlord or property manager doesn't do much screening or is overly willing to negotiate the lease with you, it may be cause for concern. Scammers tend to want to rush the process, so that you're pulled in before you realize something isn't right, says Moving.com. So, if you're feeling pressured by a overeager landlord, you may want to walk away.
Be suspicious if you can't see the property
One common scam is for someone to play off a vacant property (often a vacation home or one that is bank-owned) as their rental property, says Trulia. When it comes time for you to look the place over, they're suddenly sick, out of town or won't give you the address. Be extra cautious if they ask for rent or a security deposit despite not showing up to meet you.
A good landlord or property manager will show you the apartment, even if it means rescheduling for another day or having an associate take you through the property, says Zillow. You should never sign a lease without seeing a rental, says Moving.com. If you cannot go see it in person yourself, which may happen if it's a long-distance move, have a friend or family member you trust walk through the rental property, says Moving.com.
Zillow says that you can help avoid a scam by:
- Searching the property's address online — this may show potential issues, such as whether a property is in foreclosure or that the supposed landlord is really not the owner.
- Avoiding listings that are full of grammatical errors — a spelling error here or there is not cause for concern, but landlords and property managers will likely proofread a listing before it is published — so a listing with numerous errors is a red flag.
- Don't give out personal information upfront — there is no need to provide financial information or your Social Security number while you're still searching for a rental.
Follow your instincts and walk away from a situation that doesn't seem right or when you're getting pressured. Knowing some signs of potential rental scams can help you avoid being taken advantage of as you choose your new home.