How to Spot and Avoid Rental Scams

Rental scams can cause immense distraught. Picture this, you just completed the sale of your old house and have found the perfect home, with great location and space for your leather sofa, and most of all, the kids love it. Here’s the real shocker, on the day of moving in, you get there only to find that the property already has people living in it, and they say they’ve paid and have a valid leasing agreement.

You ask them about the seller’s information, and the name does not match the person that sold you the house. So what do you do? Do you call the police? This situation happens a lot more than you may know. The Apartment list surveyed more than 1000 American renters in July 2018, and these were their findings:

  • 43.1 percent had come across a suspicious home listing
  • 5.2 million renters are victims of rental scams
  • One in every three scam victims has lost more than $1000, specifically because they paid rent for a sham property
  • 88.3 percent of rental fraud victims are now extra cautious when looking up properties

A rental scam involving your property should worry you if you are the owner or property manager. An association with such frauds can ruin your reputation, leading to fewer renters and low revenues.

How People Fall Victim to Rental Scams

If you have never been a rental scam victim, it’s not surprising to ask yourself how this happens. There are two main ways scammers do this: by putting out a listing that does not belong to them and getting victims to pay either a deposit or total rent on a fraudulent home.

Here’s how they do it.

  • They scan and take information and images of vulnerable house listings from verified listings
  • They create a new listing with these details and set a lower price than the original ad to entice buyers
  • In some cases, they pretend to offer support to the rightful property owner by posting on their behalf
  • They will then ask for money, including through a deposit and rent fees
  • They may go to the extent of breaking into the home to hold a house show
  • Afterward, they may succeed in receiving rental payments and processing fees

How To Spot and Avoid Rental Scams

Here are the top signs to watch out for to avoid falling victim to a rental scam.

1. The property’s selling price seems too good to be true

If you believe the amount listed for a particular home seems suspicious, it’s best to trust your gut particularly when you don’t appreciate a bedroom without a window. One way to confirm your suspicions is by checking the prices for other properties around the same neighborhood.

2. Poorly listed ad

Like other scams, another sign to look out for is the grammar and overall presentation of the listing. Often, a rental scam will have low-quality pictures, many grammatical errors, and unprofessional email addresses. Also, if you are keen, you may spot another seller’s watermark.

3. Search results are inconclusive

Let’s say you are looking to rent an apartment or rent to own home. It’s always wise to look up the building online and see reviews. Look out for complaints from past victims and stay away if the owner’s details are missing in the county reorder’s files.

4. The property manager declines a meeting

Scammers try to convince victims to send money as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught. One of their common tactics is to decline meeting potential buyers. Any property manager that denies your request to see the property and meet them in person is likely a scammer.

5. Suspicious payment methods

Scammers love anonymity and want their victims to pay in cash or cryptocurrency because they are the least trackable payment methods.

6. No lease agreement

Similar to the payment methods, a scammer will decline a written lease agreement. Instead, they will insist on sticking to verbal leases. The rightful owner will ensure both parties have signed copies of the agreement for reference and legal purposes.

Spot Housing Rental Scams—Know What to Look For

Rental scams are common in the U.S., with millions falling victim to them each year. These incidents occur because most buyers don’t know the signs to be wary of when looking up properties. Preventing rental scams also means dealing with principled property management. Always ensure you do your due diligence before making any payments and follow the tips mentioned in this post, so you and your loved ones don’t become victims.

Amelia Rivera

Amelia Rivera is a graduate of Harvard Business School who has spent over 16 years in the service industry, focusing on customer experience and service innovation. She provides insights into service management and customer satisfaction strategies. Her background includes management roles in hospitality and consulting. Previously, she worked with several multinational corporations, developing their customer service protocols. She enjoys yoga and is passionate about animal rescue and welfare. She is a great traveler and a gourmet food blogger in her spare time.

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