Looking for a rental is a challenging process, even under the best of circumstances. When you factor in the proliferation of rental scams on sites like Craigslist—and the additional layer of complexity that the pandemic has caused—the process begins to feel even more daunting.
With each passing year, scammers get better and better at creating realistic listings to draw people in and steal their money and identity. But with some caution, awareness, and a bit of well-placed research, you can learn to identify and avoid many common traps.
Tips for Avoiding Rental Scams
- Never wire funds. If someone asks you to do this, they are almost certainly a scammer.
- Deal locally, face-to-face, whenever possible. When you go to tour the place, make a point to meet the landlord, owner, or property manager in person. Scammers will often avoid basic, in-person interactions like this. If a renter says they are "out of town", and can't show you the inside of the house, consider this a red flag.
- Use common sense and do your research. If a listing seems too good to be true, it likely is. Scammers will often list a rental for an unusually low price to draw people in. If a rental is priced significantly lower than other comparable offerings, consider this a red flag and either walk away or be very cautious. A good way to avoid fraudulent rental listings is to start with a quick Google search of the landlord’s name, email, and property address. If you find the same ad posted in different places with different names, or detect any other oddities, there’s a good chance the listing is fraudulent.
- Don’t hand over money early in the process. Do not pay a deposit or fees of any kind until you have seen the place (inside and out!), met the landlord in person, and understand the terms of the rental agreement.
- Don’t give out any sensitive information until you have verified the listing is legitimate. Refuse background/credit checks until you have seen the property and met the landlord in person. Here are some examples of sensitive information: your social security number, birthdate/place, home phone number, home address, citizenship or visa codes, banking, financial, or credit card information, driver’s license numbers, etc.
- Know what you are signing. Read paperwork and lease agreements carefully before signing them. If you unsure/uncomfortable with anything in the agreement, do further research or get help from someone with experience. Basic information on tenant rights can be found here.
If you think that you have fallen victim to a scam, file a report with both local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission, and report the issue to Craigslist or wherever the fraudulent listing is posted. You will also want to begin monitoring your credit report for suspicious activity.