online rental scam

Knowledge and tips for avoiding being a victim of a rental scam.

What is a Rental Scam?

A rental scam is a type of housing scam in which the scammers tried to get unsuspecting renters or tenants looking for a new place to live to send them money.  These rental scams are on the rise, with criminals increasingly using creative methods to target unsuspected renters to steal their money.  Rental scams are often hard to spot and can leave victims feeling taken advantage of and out of pocket.  It is essential that we all know the warning signs of a rental scam so we can protect ourselves from being a victim.

How does a Rental Scam work?

The rental scam usually starts with the scammer posting a fraudulent rental listing online as a landlord. These fake listings will be listed at a price that is significantly lower than the market rate. When the renters express interest, the scammer will require them to fill out a fake online rental application and pay the application fee.  During this stage, the scammers would have already made a lot of money from multiple unsuspecting renters, and also gained personal information including social security numbers, driver’s licenses, etc. which the scammers could use for other malicious purposes. 

Next, the scammer will tell the renters that they are approved for the property. Then they will put pressure on the renters to wire money as soon as possible to reserve it or lose it. The amount of money they require the renters to wire in is usually equal to the amount of the security deposits plus the first month’s rent

If the renters ask to see the property in person, the scammers will typically give the renters the excuse that they are currently out of town, on a business trip, etc.  Some scammers will go as far as scheduling showing appointments with the renters to pretend they can show the property. Then before the appointment, they will tell the renters that they have some personal or family emergency and cancel it. This baiting method helps lure the tenants into thinking that they are working with a legitimate landlord while providing the scammers more time to continue telling the tenants to wire money or risk losing the property. Once the money is wired, the scammers disappear.  

How can you tell if a Rental Property Listing is a Scam?

Here are 6 common rental scams red flags to help you spot a rental scam listing:

  1. The rent is significantly below the market price in the area.
  2. There are 2 different contact phone numbers on the rental listing.
  3. The photos are from when the property was listed for sale or a different property.*
  4. The landlord keeps delaying or making excuses to meet in person.
  5. The landlord requests renters send money before showing the property.
  6. The identity of the landlord or property manager is difficult to verify.

If you come across any of these red flags in your search for a new home, it’s best to proceed with extreme caution or stay away.

*It’s also best practice to do a Google search of the full property’s address and check all the listings related to the property, old and new. This can sometimes help you determine if there are any things suspicions about the listing.

Best ways to avoid Rental Scams

Here are 4 best ways to help you avoid scams:

  1. Be extremely cautious of deals that seem too good to be true.
  2. Request to meet the property owner or the property manager at the property.
  3. ALWAYS go see the property BEFORE signing a lease and making any payments.
  4. NEVER wire money to the Landlord until AFTER you see them in person.

Bottom line: If you can’t meet the landlord in person to tour the property and sign the lease before making payment, keep looking. You can also use Leasing Flow super low-cost application method to minimize your risk while applying to rental properties.

What to do if you suspect you’ve been Scammed?

If you suspect you have been scammed, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and help others from falling victim to a rental scam. First, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) including the information of the person who posted it. They offer advice and guidance on what steps to take to possibly recover your money and/or prevent the scammer from using your personal information for other malicious purposes. You can also file a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) which works with the FBI and local authorities to investigate cybercrime such as online scams and fraud.

Additionally, always keep all evidence of the scam, such as emails or text messages, so that law enforcement agencies may be able to use it for investigation purposes. Furthermore, make sure you tell your friends and family about your experience so they can learn from it and be more vigilant against similar scams in the future.

Finally, if you encountered a fake rental listing, you should also report it to the rental site where the listing was posted. Popular real estate websites such as Zillow,,, etc. take rental fraud very seriously. However, due to the sheer amount of houses and apartment listings listed on their sites, it’s almost impossible for them to keep track of every listing. Therefore, your help in reporting rental scams and fraudulent rental listings will go a long way in helping others avoid being scammed.

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