We have received several reports of citizens who rented apartments or homes, paying a deposit and often first month’s rent, only to find the property they rented was not actually available. The person who placed the advertisement was not the home’s owner or the property manager of the apartment.
This is a good time to remind everyone about this type of scam.
How to avoid rental or real estate scams (Information from FTC)
How Rental Scams Work - Scammers know that finding the right apartment or vacation rental can be hard work, and a seemingly good deal is hard to pass up. They’ve been known to game some vacation rental websites and bulletin boards. The take-away: when you’re looking for a rental, it’s caveat renter — renter beware.
If it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. Do your due diligence; physically tour the apartment or home before you rent. If you are renting in a new city, research the property management company and call the different numbers provided and make sure you are talking to that company, and not a scammer.
Hijacked Ads- Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.
Phantom Rentals - Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out. Often they target people by placing Craig’s List Ads advertising apartments or homes for rent at a low price. They ask for a deposit and / or 1st month’s rent via online means such as Zelle or Paypal, or wiring the money.
Signs of a Scam - Being savvy when you’re in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:
They tell you to wire money - This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease - It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.
They say they’re out of the country - But they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or an “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Don’t send money to them overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.
They are not physically present at a showing – There have been several reports of people who do the entire transaction online, up to and including showing up at an apartment where they are given a code to enter the building and actually tour the apartment. If you are renting an apartment, make sure you meet with the property manager or company representative in person to look at the apartment.
How to Report Scams - If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC. Contact the website where the ad was posted, too.