Seven Tips to Avoid Rental Scams
Apartment rental scams are becoming more common, making it important for prospective tenants to be aware and well-informed to prevent financial loss and emotional distress from getting caught up in one. The best defense against these rip-offs is awareness and knowledge.
The following seven tips will show you how to spot rental scams so you can protect yourself from fraudulent activities and secure a legitimate rental experience.
1. Do Your Research and Verify What You Find
Before engaging with any rental listings, conduct thorough research on the property and its management. Start by verifying the legitimacy of the landlord or property manager. Search for their contact information online and cross-reference it with official websites, local directories or social media profiles. If you find inconsistencies or no trace of their existence, proceed with caution.
2. Beware of Suspiciously Low Prices and Unrealistic Offers
One of the most common red flags of these scams is a rental price significantly lower than similar properties in the area. As the saying goes, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Research average rental rates in locations that interest you and be suspicious of listings that are well below those figures.
3. Avoid Demands for Upfront Payment or Wire Transfer Requests
A telltale sign of a rental scam is the demand for an upfront payment, particularly via wire transfer, which—like cash—is difficult to trace and you likely won’t get it back. Legitimate landlords typically prioritize the completion of necessary paperwork before requesting a security deposit or first month’s rent, whereas scammers often insist on payment of these before a lease is signed. (The exception to this is the application fee, which is paid before the lease is signed. This fee covers the costs of background checks and is usually much less than the rent amount.)
4. Be Sure to View and Inspect Property
Scammers may give a variety of reasons to prevent you from visiting and inspecting the property, but most often they claim to be out of town. Insist on scheduling a viewing and thoroughly inspect the premises before committing to anything. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a simple piece of advice to avoid this scam: “If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.”
5. Be Wary of Poor Communication and Inconsistencies
Pay close attention to the quality of communication with the prospective landlord or property manager. Rental scammers often disregard specific questions or concerns and give inconsistent or evasive responses. Legitimate landlords are usually responsive, professional and willing to provide detailed information about their property.
6. Look out for “Cloning” of a Legitimate Listing
Rental scammers often copy legitimate rental listings from reputable websites and post them on other platforms. The cloned listings contain all the originals’ details, including photos and descriptions, but with different contact information. To avoid falling victim to this tactic, verify the authenticity of a listing by cross-referencing it with other sources. If you find an identical listing elsewhere with different contact information, at least one of the listings is likely a scam.
7. Don’t Fall for Intense Pressure to Decide Immediately
Scammers rely on a sense of urgency, pushing potential victims to make rushed decisions by claiming others are interested in the same property, or by setting unrealistic deadlines. Take your time when making rental decisions, carefully reading the terms of the lease and verifying the property's legitimacy—and never allow yourself to be pressured into providing personal or financial information prematurely. Even if you don’t fall for their rental scam, if you provide these criminals with personal information (driver’s license, social security number, etc.), they can create a profile of you and attempt a different scam at a later time.
Recognizing the warning signs of a rental scam is crucial in protecting yourself when searching for an apartment or rental home. If a listing seems too good to be true, or if you encounter any of the warning signs mentioned above, trust your instincts and proceed with caution.