With a particularly hot property market, both on the buying and renting side, apartment listing scams are becoming more commonplace.
To avoid falling victim to a scam and losing money, it’s important to be vigilant if you’re apartment hunting.
How do apartment listing scams work?
Generally speaking, an apartment listing scam is when a property owner misrepresents themselves in some way. They may misrepresent the terms, price, or availability of the property or post fake ads for properties that don’t even exist.
Most scams aim to take money from interested renters by demanding a security deposit or move-in fee without the renter even seeing the apartment. The scammer then keeps the money without any intention of letting you rent the unit.
Red flags to watch out for while apartment hunting
No one ever thinks they will fall victim to such a scam, but it’s important to be on the lookout for common red flags. Here are some of the most common ones:
They don’t want to meet in person
One of the most common red flags to be aware of is when the owner does not want to meet you in person. The reason scammers do this is because it makes it harder for you to report or identify them.
A legitimate landlord will be willing to meet you in person or virtually, as it’s in their best interests to vet you.
They want you to move in or sign an agreement before seeing the property
In a fast-moving property market, some scammers use this to pressure renters into securing the property without viewing it. Some renters who are desperate for a place to stay will sign leases or hand over the money without thinking.
With scams like these, the property may not even be available or exist. The reason you can’t see the property is usually because the landlord doesn’t have access to it.
The price is too good to be true
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. An apartment with a significantly lower price than other nearby units is a red flag.
Scammers in this case will often use a bait-and-switch tactic. Renters are lured in with the low rent price, the property is promptly taken off the market, and then replaced with a similar, more expensive unit. The renter is then pressured to act fast and sign a lease before it disappears off the market – despite the price rise.
Zero tenant screening process
Another red flag is dressed up as a positive for the renter – no time-consuming tenant screenings. While tenant screening can be inconvenient for those who want to move soon, they’re an important part of the renting process for both the tenant and the landlord.
Landlords who skip the process, which typically involves an application, credit check, and income verification, should be considered a red flag to avoid.
How to avoid apartment listing scams
While some red flags may be obvious, others are more elaborate and staged by practiced scammers who know all the best tricks. A few things you can do to protect yourself include:
Insist on meeting the landlord in person
If you will be renting from the landlord for the next few years, it’s always a good idea to meet them in person before you sign anything. You will get to see what they’re like to work with, and can also check for any suspicious behavior.
View the property before you sign or pay anything
One of the most important things you should do is avoid signing or paying for anything until you have seen the property. Any landlord who insists on you paying a fee to secure the property should be avoided. You have no guarantee that you will get the unit or that the unit even exists.
What should you do if you suspect an apartment listing scam?
If you suspect a rental scam or have become a victim of one, there are a few steps to take next.
Contact the local authorities – The authorities can investigate and potentially find the scammer. There is also a possibility you can get your money back if you have already paid them.
Contact the listing website – If you know that a listing is fraudulent, the next step to take is to contact the listing website to get them to take it down.
File a complaint with the IC3 and/or Federal Trade Commission – The IC3 is a government agency that you should report online crimes to. The FTC is to report an individual falsely claiming to run a business.
The best practice to avoid apartment listings scams is to be vigilant and careful. Anything that sounds remotely suspicious should be treated with caution.
Interested in this topic? Read more about how to Get Help to Pay Rent with the Emergency Rental Assistance Program here.