Rental property listing scams are a common way for fraudsters to steal money from prospective renters. They'll ask you to pay for a security deposit or move-in fee without showing you the property or rental unit and walk away with your money without any intention of renting a unit to you. To avoid falling for these scams, it's essential to recognize the warning signs, take preventative measures, and know what to do if you're scammed.
How Do You Spot Rental Property Listing Scams?
Here are seven warning signs to watch out for when looking for a place to rent:
1. They Refuse to Meet You in Person
As a result of the pandemic, many property management firms now only offer real-time videos for their available properties. To ensure legitimacy, it's important to verify the firm's credentials by checking its online website. Look for information from reliable sources such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Secretary of State, and the National Association of Realtors. If an individual claims they can't meet in person and is posting a rental listing, it's a warning sign. For prospective tenants who are out of the area or have scheduling conflicts, requesting a digital viewing is common practice.
For safety reasons and to confirm income eligibility, it is common practice for property management firms to require a completed application and driver's license from prospective tenants. Additionally, a small processing fee may be required in advance to verify and review creditworthiness before scheduling a showing. This helps ensure that the prospective tenant(s) is reliable and maintains the safety of both staff and tenants.
A good owner or property manager will want to meet you either digitally or in-person to ensure you're a trustworthy renter. On the other hand, scammers typically don't want to meet you, so you can't report them.
2. They Want You to Move in Immediately, Without Seeing the Property
If the person listing the property for rent instructs you to inspect the property by only walking around the outside, it's likely a scam. Scammers typically don't have access to the inside of the property.
If they want you to move in immediately without an application process, that is also a scammer red flag. Good owners or property managers will insist on doing their due diligence to make sure you will be a good tenant.
3. They Ask for Rent or a Security Deposit Before Signing a Lease
While asking for an application processing fee, which is used to cover the costs of running a credit check, background check and processing is an acceptable fee to pay before signing a lease, demanding the first month’s rent or a security deposit, however, is not. If the owner, property manager, or real estate agent asks for rent or a security deposit before signing a lease, it's a sign that the prospective rental property is a scam. You should never be asked to give a large sum of money before seeing and having all parties sign a lease.
4. The Price Is Too Good
If the rental price looks too good to be true, it probably is. Properties priced well below the market rate should be a red flag. Beware of "bait and switch" situations, where the owner uses a low rent price to lure potential renters before suddenly taking the listing off the market and replacing it with a similar, more costly unit.
5. The Listing Has Typos, Poor Grammar, or Excessive Punctuation
Rental listings full of errors are likely scams. Serious owners or property managers will take the time to proofread listings before posting them. Listings that contain typos, poor grammar, and excessive punctuation or capitalization were likely created by scammers.
6. There Is No Tenant Screening Process
An owner or property manager who doesn't require a rental application and credit check is a red flag. Professional property managers typically have a set tenant screening process to choose tenants who can pay rent and take care of their property.
7. They Want You to Sign an Incomplete Lease
If an owner or property manager asks you to sign an incomplete lease, it's a red flag. By going through your lease and ensuring there are no blank spaces, vague writing, or incomplete sentences, you're making sure that you will not be harmed by a manipulated lease in the future.
What Should You Do If You're a Victim of a Rental Scam?
If you're a victim of a rental scam, be sure to:
1. Contact local authorities.
2. Contact the listing website.
3. Report it to the FTC: https://www.ftc.gov/media/71268.
4. File a complaint with the IC3: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint.