How to Avoid the Rental Listing Scam?
- Written by Tracy Scott
- Category: Articles
After months of searching, you found the perfect rental unit.
It's close to work, in a safe neighborhood, and it's cheap. In fact, rent is nearly half of what other properties in the same area cost.
When you're ready to move into your first (or next) rental property, pause before making your final decision.
The landlord said you needed to act fast. But he gave you a few extra days to come up with the security deposit and first month's rent, claiming he wanted to help you out.
But today is move-in day, and it looks like the only person he wanted to help out was himself.
It's Moving Day!
As much as you struggle with the lock, it just won't budge. Maybe the landlord sent the wrong key. Possible, but unlikely. When you wired him your deposit and first month's rent, you noted the property address and he confirmed it.
You scan through his email messages on your phone, looking for his contact number.
...no application or credit check required...
...can't meet you in person. I'm out of state...
....check out the property by doing a walk around...
...sorry, no virtual tour. But you can peak in the windows...
Had you been in such a rush to close the deal that you ignored what now appear to be obvious red flags? No, you're too smart for that. But you've read that even intelligent people can get scammed. Sigh! You take a seat on the porch steps and close your eyes. It takes a few seconds before you realize a man you've never seen before is trying to get your attention.
Stranger: Can I help you, young man?
You: Yeah, um. I planned to move in today, but my key doesn't work.
You wave your hand toward the front door.
Stranger: Move in?
You: Yes, my name is Steve, and it looks like we will be neighbors. Well, as soon as I can unlock the door.Stranger: (quiet)
You: Uh, is there something I should know?
Stranger: Well, yes. I moved into this home three months ago, and I'm not looking for a roommate.
After comparing notes with the stranger, Steve realized he was a victim of a scam that involved a hijacked rental listing. The scammers lifted the original ad from another website and altered the contact information before placing it on a different website. Then they pretended to be the property owners and collected a security deposit and first month's rent via wire transfer. In return, Steve received bogus keys to nowhere.
They Take Your Money and Run
Fraudsters want to take your money and run, so they'll try to minimize their paper trail. Stay alert for the common signs of rental scams:
- You're never asked to sign a lease
- Payments are only accepted via wire transfer or cash
- Limited communication; no phone numbers or mailing addresses are exchanged
- You're unable to physically tour the inside of the property
If you think you've encountered a rental scam, notify the listing website and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
When you're ready to move into your first (or next) rental property, pause before making your final decision. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.