How to Avoid Rental Scams

Quick Answer

You can avoid rental scams by taking steps such as:

  • Watching out for listing photos that seem too good to be true.
  • Looking for obvious errors in rental listings.
  • Not caving in to high-pressure sales tactics.
Man looking seriously at piece of paper with hand over mouth.

While on the hunt for deals on apartments and other properties, some renters become victims of rental scams. The sole goal of these scams is to steal renters' money, and, unfortunately, they often work. American renters lose tens of millions of dollars a year to rental and real estate scams, according to FBI statistics.

Here are seven common signs of rental scams and how to avoid them.

1. Rental Pictures Look Too Good to Be True

What to watch out for: A typical scenario involves an online ad for a rental that features photos of high-end appliances and luxury amenities with a monthly rent well below what you'd expect to pay for such a place. This should raise your suspicions about the rental property.

How to avoid the scam: Perform a reverse image search to see if the photos appear elsewhere online. Some scammers grab photos from a legitimate listing to create a fake listing. Furthermore, always ask to see the property before signing a lease or putting down a deposit. Be sure to get confirmation that you'll be renting the same unit, or ask to be shown one similar to what you'll get.

2. Rental Listing Contains Errors

What to watch out for: When you're checking out a rental listing, look for misspelled words, grammatical mistakes, overuse of capital letters and strange formatting. All of these could be signs that a scammer posted the rental listing.

How to avoid the scam: Carefully review rental listings so you can spot misspellings and other errors that raise red flags. If the structure of an ad is sloppy, it might be the work of a scammer.

3. You're Pressured to Lease Right Away

What to watch out for: If a landlord is rushing your decision to sign a lease, proceed with caution. In some cases, a scammer might use high-pressure sales tactics to persuade you to part with your money.

How to avoid the scam: Don't cave in to pressure. Take time to figure out whether you want to sign the lease. If you want to go ahead with the rental, comb through the lease to be sure you understand all the details. Among other things, the lease should spell out the length of the contract, the dollar amount of your rent and the landlord's responsibilities (such as maintenance and repairs).

4. You're Asked for Money Upfront

What to watch out for: If you're asked to make a deposit or pay the first month's rent before you've toured the property, be cautious. Some rental scammers ask for money upfront then vanish by the time you're ready to occupy the property.

How to avoid the scam: Before handing over your money, verify that the person who posted the rental listing actually owns or controls the property you want to rent by doing some online research. In addition, avoid sending money via unusual, hard-to-track payment methods, such as wire transfers, gift cards, prepaid debit cards or cryptocurrency. Legitimate landlords normally don't accept these forms of payments.

5. There's No Credit Check Involved

What to watch out for: Landlords and management companies often perform credit checks to get a sense of an applicant's payment history. So, you should beware if someone offers to lease a rental property without doing a credit check. This person might be a scammer. A twist on this scheme is when scammers set up fake credit checks to trick renters into offering sensitive personal and financial data.

How to avoid the scam: To ensure you're dealing with a reputable landlord or management company, keep an eye out for requests for a credit check, income verification and other typical landlord requirements. Without them, you could be dealing with a scammer. Keep in mind, though, that some legitimate landlords and management companies might not demand a credit check.

6. You Can't Tour the Property

What to watch out for: Someone might offer an excuse for not letting you tour a property before signing a lease. For example, they may claim to be out of the country and be unable to meet you at the property. However, they still want you to come up with cash for a deposit or the first month's rent. Don't fall for it. A reputable landlord or property manager generally won't ask for money before you're able to see a rental property.

How to avoid the scam: Always tour a rental property before signing a lease and turning over money. If a landlord is making things difficult, it could be time to move on to another prospective rental.

7. The Rent Is Very Low

What to watch out for: Everyone loves a bargain, but when it comes to rent, an unusually low rate might be too much of a deal. If the rent that's listed is well below the going rate for similar properties in your area, a scammer might be trying to trick you. In this scenario, the scammer may reel you in with a rock-bottom rental rate and push you toward coming up with a deposit right away so that you don't lose out on the property.

How to avoid the scam: Research rates in your area to see what typical rents are for the type of property you're seeking. If you come across a too-good-to-be-true rate, resist the urge to jump on this potentially fraudulent opportunity.

What to Do if You're a Victim of a Rental Scam

Do you suspect you've fallen victim to a rental scam? If so:

  • Contact your bank immediately to see if you can cancel transactions related to a rental scam.
  • File a complaint with local police, the FBI or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • If you provided sensitive personal or financial information, you have the right to set up a fraud alert on your credit reports to get notified if someone tries to apply for credit under your name.

The Bottom Line

Scammers operate in various sectors, including the rental industry. If you're in the market for a rental property, stay alert and watch for warning signs of rental scams. Being cautious during the rental process can help avoid headaches—and help avoid losing your money.