How I successfully avoided a rental scam

Looking for a new place to call home? Be on the lookout for rental scams. By learning what to look for, you can protect yourself from falling victim to a rental scam.

Tips for how to avoid rental scams

According to USAGov, rental scams occur when either the prospective renter or landlord misrepresents themselves. Some rental scams include misrepresentations of the property itself or the terms under which the property can be rented.

How I successfully avoided a rental scam:

This article was inspired by my own recent run-in with a scammer while hunting for a new room rental. Here’s how I figured out that the rental of my dreams was too good to be true.

I recently searched for a room to rent, and with less than a month to move, I quickly searched for rentals on a variety of different sites that might fit my budget and rental preferences. Although I tried to be careful and only select what appeared to be authentic listings, one slipped below my radar.

Upon first glance, the listing looked authentic. The rental price was similar to other offers in the area. The pictures looked clear, and the layout seemed to fit the typical Dutch style.

I was contacted by the landlord pretty late into the evening after providing basic details about what I was looking for. He provided additional information about the exact location and details of the listing. I thought to myself that I would reply the next morning during business hours. The first red flag I missed was how late his initial email had been sent. 

The next morning, I woke up to an early morning email from the landlord wishing me a good morning and asking if I was still interested since I hadn’t replied to his last email. This was the second red flag, a very persistent and pushy landlord. At this point, I felt a bit annoyed and started to get suspicious.

When things started to become more suspicious…

I emailed back a few questions and received a reply with additional photos of the room but was told that I couldn’t actually view the room yet but could instead get a video of the flat. According to this “landlord,” the previous tenant had left due to COVID and would only come back to retrieve their belongings near the end of the month. Therefore, he could not hold a tour of the apartment because it couldn’t be accessed until then. However, if I wanted, he could send me a video of the apartment to see more of it and secure it before someone else could express their interest.

I took the pictures from the listing and did a reverse image search on TinEye. This allowed me to see if these images appeared anywhere else online. Sure enough, one of the photos was used in an Airbnb posting in Turkey… Upon closer look, I noticed that the rug in another picture also matched the rug in another picture from the landlord. By now, I felt certain that my suspicions were correct, and this was not a risk worth taking.

I proceeded to report the listing on the site where I had found it. I sent screenshots as evidence. Luckily, I was able to follow my instincts and avoid getting scammed. By following these tips, I hope others can also spot rental scams and avoid being deceived.

rental scams

Learn the warning signs:

Zillow, a popular online real estate marketplace, has created a guide with advice on what red flags to watch out for when looking at rentals. You may have found a scam if you have seen any of the following signs:

  • The price is unbelievably good. When you see a rental in your dream location at a price well below rentals nearby, think twice. Check to see what other rentals are going for and compare.
  • The property owner wants all of your personal details a.s.a.p. This is a red flag because landlords do not need this information this early on when you are apartment searching. Do not give your social security number, a copy of your ID, or bank account information right away!
  • The rental is listed somewhere else. It is important to be sure that the person you are communicating with is actually affiliated with the rental. Scammers may copy a legitimate listing to use the photos for their scam.
  • The property owner lives far away. It could be that a rich property owner is living out of the state or country somewhere; however, check to see if there is a local agency or company that manages the property for them.
  • You are asked to wire or send money before seeing the property or signing the contract. Zillow advises you to walk away when this occurs. It isn’t worth the risk.

rental scam

What to do to avoid rental scams:

The Federal Trade Commission has published advice on active steps you can take to avoid being scammed when house/room/apartment/or studio searching.

  • Google the rental company or property owner. With a quick search, you can see what others have said about renting with this company. Add the search terms “scam” or “review” to see if anything suspicious comes up.
  • Check to make sure the rental agency is legitimate. 
  • Ask for a tour. You should never rent a property that you haven’t viewed, even if you do a “virtual” tour.

What not do to:

Furthermore, Allstate published additional helpful tips on what not to do:

  • Don’t pay in advance. Why? Because scammers count on the fact that once you send them money, it might be difficult to get it back.
  • Don’t bend to pressure from pushy landlords. Scammers may wish to rush the process so that they can get your money before you notice any of these red flags.
  • Don’t sign a rental contract until you’ve seen the rental. Scammers depend on the fact that there may be a time pressure element when someone is looking to move. This pressure may cause us to overlook warning signs. You should always see the place to ensure that you haven’t been scammed. Just because something looks good in the pictures on the ad doesn’t mean it will appear the same in real life.

Finding a new place to live is stressful enough without having to deal with scammers. Keep these tips in mind and avoid being bamboozled or swindled by rental scams as you find your next dream home.

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