What is a rental scam?
Unfortunately, rental scams are fast growing schemes where a fake listing agent or real estate broker tries to get someone to sign a lease or send a deposit payment for a property that isn’t actually available for rent. Usually the money is asked to be sent via wire transfer, Western Union or crypto payments because they are more difficult to trace. The scammer then pockets the money, robbing the victim of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
9 Ways to Spot A Rental Scam
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1. They ask you to wire money
The most sure sign of a scam is if you are asked to wire money, or send money via Western Union, crypto, or even gift cards, before you’ve signed a lease or seen the property. These payment methods are more difficult to trace, making them ideal for scammers to use. You should never send money to anyone until you’ve visited the property and signed a lease.
2. Grammatical errors or foreign spellings of words
If the ad for the property is full of typos and poor grammar, it’s best to pass on the listing because it’s likely a scam. Also pay attention to foreign spellings of words like using “colour” instead of “color.”
3. A price too good to be true
A listing with a super low price relative to the market is probably so for a reason: it’s meant to attract attention and easily find someone to dupe. A great deal is always nice to find and there are some true deals out there. Getting scammed out of your money though, is no deal at all.
4. Check the photos
What do listings with “brand new renovations” and gorgeous over-the-top photos and a price too low for the market, a listing without any photos at all, or a listing with photos using the MLS logo have in common? They’re likely scam listings. Scammers love using beautiful photos on fake listings with an unrealistic price to hook potential victims. Some are too lazy to use photos at all, or to take the time to remove a watermark. Stay away from these listings.
5. High pressure sales tactics
If you’re told that the deal won’t last long or being persuaded to sign a lease before you’ve actually seen the property, head the other direction. Scammers will try to get the money out of your pocket and into theirs as fast as possible to avoid getting caught. Make decisions that feel right. If someone is trying to pressure you into a deal, it’s probably a scam.
6. Expensive background checks
Background checks usually cost about $50 – $75. If it’s more than that, take a closer look to make sure it’s not a scam, especially if you’re being asked to send money via cash, check or methods that are difficult to trace.
7. No background checks
No background or credit checks are big red flags and indicate a scam. A good property manager wants to know who they’re renting their property to and whether or not you have a responsible payment history. A scammer won’t care at all because there’s no property to rent!
8. Vague listing details
Legitimate listing agents want you to be able to find the property and will provide all the details to convince you to sign with them. A scammer on the other hand wants to give you as little details as possible to conceal their identity and prevent you from doing your due diligence on the property. Watch out for listings without an address, descriptions of the interior, or details about amenities and nearby attractions. A scammer has never been to the property and might not even be in the country so they’ll have no idea what the property is like or what’s nearby.
9. They’re out of the country
If you’re told the owner is out of the country and you need to work with one of their agents, you should look elsewhere. Some scammers can be pretty convincing and might involve a “lawyer” or even send you fake keys. But if they’re claiming to be out of the country and you aren’t able to see the property for yourself, it’s best to move on.
What To Do If You Think You’ve Been Scammed
If you think you’ve been scammed and have already sent money, the first thing you’ll want to do is contact your bank or entity you’ve used to send the money and ask to cancel the transaction or reverse it.
Once you’ve done that, file a police report with your local authorities and also report the scam to the FBI and FTC.