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How to Spot a Rental Scam

Scams involving rental property listings usually try to defraud potential tenants. They'll try to convince you to pay a security deposit or move-in fee before you've even seen the apartment or rental unit, and they'll keep the money without ever renting you a place.

We'll teach you which warning signals to look out for, how to avoid being scammed, and what to do if you're a victim of a bogus listing in this chapter of our apartment hunting guide.

What Are the Signs That a Rental Property Listing Is a Scam?

There are a few things that all fake rental listings have in common. These are seven rental scam warning indicators that every renter should be aware of when looking for a rental:

  • They don't want to meet you in person for a number of reasons.

  • If the person who submitted the rental listing states they are unable or unwilling to see you in person, that is never a good indicator. Even if you are unable to meet in person, you should be able to request a real-time video walkthrough of the rental so that you are aware of its existence.

  • A smart landlord will make an effort to meet you, either digitally or in person, so that they can trust you as a tenant. A landlord should also want to meet you in person to ensure that you are legitimate. Scammers, on the other hand, usually do not want to meet you because they do not want you to be able to denounce them.

2. They want you to move in right away, even if you haven't seen the property.

Even if you meet the landlord in person, you should always inspect the property before signing a lease or paying any money. It's simple for someone to claim ownership of a property and create a false web listing, so it's advisable to visit the home in person and confirm its availability.

In the majority of rental scams, the person promoting the property does not actually have access to the inside. This is almost probably a fraud if a landlord asks you to check the house by wandering around the outside at your leisure.If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of requiring a residence right away, be extremely cautious. Properties that are offered immediately away could be a sign of a shady landlord or a fraud.

3. Before signing a lease, they request rent or a security deposit.

If the property management, landlord, or realtor asks for rent or a security deposit before signing a contract, it's a clear clue that the apartment you're looking at is a fraud.

You should never be asked to give a big sum of money as a possible tenant before visiting the property and having all parties sign a lease. Application fees are a reasonable amount to pay before signing a lease to cover the costs of background checks. The first month's rent or a security deposit, on the other hand, are not refundable.

If you haven't signed a lease, you should never send or wire money to anyone. In some circumstances, a con artist would claim to be from another country and will ask you to send money to them in exchange for the keys. In a more perilous case, you might be requested to send money to someone you've only communicated with over the internet. Remember that anyone who does not reside near the rental should have someone in the region who can handle the logistics, such as a property manager or realtor.

In situations like these, you should report the listing as fraudulent and stop communicating with the seller.

4. The Deal Is Too Good To Be True

If a price appears to be too good to be true, it most likely is. A property that is offered significantly below the current market rate in your area should raise warning flags right away.

These types of properties can be a "bait and switch" situation, in which the owner uses a low rent price to entice potential renters before abruptly removing the listing and replacing it with a similar, more expensive apartment. Despite the price adjustment, the temptation to act swiftly before it's gone can motivate renters to sign a lease soon.

So, how do you know if a unit is priced correctly and isn't a rip-off?

To obtain a decent indication of what rentals in a certain region are being rented for, perform your own research on rent costs for apartments of comparable location, size, and amenities.

While a lower-than-market asking rent is a symptom of possible fraud, it does not necessarily imply that the listing is false. Keep in mind that the landlord may not be aware of the fair market rent rate, that the apartment is being rented outside of peak moving seasons, or that the unit is defective in some way (near a noisy highway, for example).

5. There are typos, poor grammar, or excessive punctuation in the listing

Be wary of rental listings that are riddled with mistakes. Serious landlords and property managers will take the effort to draft and proofread a great listing. If you find a rental listing with several mistakes, poor grammar, and excessive punctuation or capitalization, it was most likely prepared by a scammer.

6. There isn't a tenant screening procedure in place.

As a tenant, you'll want to rent from a reputable, responsive landlord who follows the "proper" procedures. Professional landlords nearly always have a pre-determined tenant screening process in place to ensure that they select tenants who will be able to pay their rent and care for their property.

You should consider it a red flag if a landlord does not need a rental application and credit check. The landlord is either unconcerned with finding a good tenant because they are unskilled, or they are unconcerned because it is a fraud. You should be suspicious in both cases.

7. They want you to sign a lease that isn't complete.

One reason why every tenant should read through a new lease is to determine whether it is complete. A landlord or property management who invites you to sign an incomplete lease is not looking out for your best interests because they can amend it anytime (and however) they want without informing you.

By checking over your lease and ensuring sure there are no blank areas, ambiguous writing, or unfinished sentences, you can avoid being hurt in the future by a twisted agreement.

Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

Before you proceed with any rental property, make certain that you:

Examine the rental listing thoroughly:

  • Make sure the rental listing you're contemplating is real by using the recommendations above.

  • Skip it if there are any red flags or characteristics that suggest it is a fraud.

  • Meet the landlord face to face: You must meet the individual from whom you will be renting.

  • Will you be able to collaborate effectively?

  • Do they appear nice and eager to rent you a unit? Are they a legitimate landlord or property management, most importantly?

See the property in person:

  • Seeing a rental unit in person will let you know it exists and give you a solid notion of whether or not you want to live there before signing the lease.

  • When you go see the place, you'll also get to meet the landlord or property manager, which will allow you to discover more about their personality and professionalism.

What Should You Do If You're a Rental Scam Victim?

If you've been the victim of a rental scam, make sure you do the following:

Make contact with your local government. If they discover the scammer, they will file charges and perhaps refund any money you have lost.

Contact the listing website where you found the rental to request that it be removed and the lister be reported.

The Federal Trade Commission should be notified. The FTC is in charge of protecting consumers, particularly when it comes to how a company handles your personal information or when someone falsely claims to be a business owner. You can report a scam to the Federal Trade Commission here.

Make a formal complaint to the IC3. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a government organization that makes it simple for people to report online crimes. They collaborate with the FBI and local law enforcement to oversee and resolve internet scams including rental listing scams.

Always inspect the apartment before submitting an application.

The easiest method to prevent falling victim to a scam is to visit the apartment and meet the landlord before proceeding with any stage of the application process. It's also a vital phase in your apartment hunt.

While looking at rental listings, keep these 12 questions in mind to ensure you're covering all the bases and making a wise choice when it comes to your next home.

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