Most people haven’t ever heard of a rental listing scam before. Even though they are fairly common, they don’t hit the news very often because the damage isn’t normally as severe as having your identity stolen. That said, they can still cost you a lot of money and time.
A rental listing scam only targets people who are looking to rent a home or condo. Whether you’re moving across the country or staying in the local area, it doesn’t matter. These scams can affect anyone looking to rent.
What generally happens is that a company will advertise a home as being available for rent… even though it’s not. The company probably has zero rights to rent out this house, but they’ll market it just because it’s a nice house in a good area and is likely to rent. Other times, they’ll be marketing a place for rent that doesn’t even exist!
The goal of these scammers is to get a major chunk of cash from you. They’ll normally say it’s for the first month’s rent and security deposit, which are fairly standard. The problem is that once you pay, they’ll disappear and your money will be gone for good- and you still don’t have a place to live.
So how can you protect yourself? Watch out for these warning signs.
You’re Told to Wire the Money
The easiest way to tell if this is a scam is if you’re asked to wire the money. No legit apartment complex, property management company, or landlord will ask you to do this. Instead, you’re normally asked to pay with cash or check. Some will take credit cards, but wire? No way.
The problem with wiring money is that it’s the same as paying with cash. Once you’ve sent the money, it’s GONE. You have zero chance of getting it back.
No Lease? Pay Anyway
Another indicator that you’re being scammed is that you’re asked to pay before you even sign a lease! This is laziness on the scammer’s part, because if they really wanted to get you, they’d send a lease before payment. But most don’t do that- they just ask you to go ahead and send the money ASAP.
Before you pay, make sure you’ve signed the lease. You should know exactly what property it is, what the terms are, what you’re signing up for, etc.
They’re “Out of Town”
Scammers won’t meet you in person- that’s too risky. That’s why they’ll normally give you some kind of excuse for not being at the office or home where you can meet them. They’ll say they’re out of town, or even based in another country.
If this is the case- just wait. A legitimate landlord can meet you in person, or at least have their property management company or a friend do it.
If you really want to make sure it’s not a scam, have them meet you at the property, unlock it and give you a tour. This is what you get at apartment complexes- why would it be any different at a house?
The bottom line is that anytime you are moving into a new rental home, be careful. Most companies are legit, but there are a few bad apples out there just trying to steal your money.