Warning Signs Of Rental Scams

When you’re searching for your next place to rent, it’s easy to be swept up in attractive amenities, blinding yourself to potential pitfalls. That’s exactly the type of mentality swindlers are counting on when they attempt to bilk money out of lazy rental hunters.

Krystal, who is moving to Germany, writes at Moneyville about how she was nearly taken in by a rental con, and advises you to look out for red flags. Her advice pertains to any renter, but particularly those moving to a different city.

* You haven’t seen the apartment. If at all possible, wait to put a deposit down until you’ve stepped inside the property. Pictures you see online mean nothing.

* You’re asked to wire money. Criminals ask for wire transfers because they can make off with the money free and clear without giving victims much recourse to get their funds back.

* Online searches don’t convince you the rental is legit. Dig up as much information as you can about the property and the manager you’re working with. You could find valuable information that scares you off. Also, a lack of a web presence is another danger sign — possibly a sign that you’re dealing with someone who is using an alias.

Apartment rental scam: I was lucky [Moneyville]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cat says:

    * it is listed on Craigslist.

    • honestlytoomuch says:

      My boyfriend and I found the house we rent from Craigslist. I think it is a great way to find homes for rent in an area, but all the same rules from the article apply finding a home from Craigslist (or anywhere). There were certainly many scams on CL but there are lots of legit landlords, too. I find calling and speaking with an actual person, then setting up a meeting date to view the house takes away the feeling of a scam.

    • Karney says:

      I found my current apartment on Craig’s list and have been living there for 6 months now. It is really nice, and you generally get much more space from a private owner than you would get at an apartment complex (and for less money!)

    • tbax929 says:

      If you do your due diligence, finding a rental on Craigslist isn’t difficult.

    • Eremis77 says:

      From my experience, the more important thing to look out for on Craigslist is CRAZY PEOPLE. Helped a friend find a room for rent in a house, and the landlord turned out to be one of those hyper-controlling freaks. That lasted a month. The second place has worked out well, he’s been there for five months now with no problems.

    • jeni1122 says:

      I have always found all of my rentals on Craig’s List. Most of my jobs too. Not all listings are bad, but you do have to be careful.

  2. Bativac says:

    I swear I thought the headline said “Warning Signs of Retinal Scans.”

    I thought, “man, now they’re REALLY reaching.”

    • Platypi {Redacted} says:

      Glad I am not the only one that mis-read that on first glance. Must be earlier today than it feels, or something.

      • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

        WTF. Me, too. Of course, I’m dealing with some eye irritation at the monent, so retinas, pupils, etc are on my mind more than usual.

  3. RockerGal says:

    I dont agree with the online searches don’t convince you… bit.
    My husband rents out appartments and he is a total noob when it comes to the internet (seriously he refers to ebay as “the web”) so he has zero web presence.
    I know of many older landlords that don’t do with that “fandangled” interweb thing aside from having a son or daughter put up an ad online.

  4. ElleAnn says:

    The only time I signed a lease before seeing the place was when I was starting graduate school. I agreed to live in a “Vegetarian Co-op” just off campus. The place actually existed, but the roommates were too much drama and I moved after 3 months. A much better plan is to visit the city and get an apartment set up before you move, or to put your stuff in storage for a couple of weeks (some storage places offer first month free) and stay at an extended stay hotel or a hostel while you look for housing.

  5. brinks says:

    The guy I rent from owns one building with four units. He’s not a company, just a guy, so he’s got no web presence except for his Facebook page.

    Also, do any legitimate transactions take place via wiring money? It seems like there is ALWAYS a better alternative.

    • econobiker says:

      Yeah, but that guy will have a phone number and want to show you a unit in person. Most of these scams are about arm’s length deals-

      Something like this used to be standard:

      But now they got slicker and copy pictures from for sale homes etc and actually write with correct English grammar.


    • humphrmi says:

      I’ve had to wire money to an overseas business, but I checked out the business first and it was a wire transfer initiated at my bank, not Western Union. The problem was, the business usually only took cash (not credit cards) so since they were in Scotland and I was in Chicago, Wire Transfer (or skipping the transaction) was the only way to go.

  6. AndyfromIL says:

    What about house rentals these days? Should you verify ownership and whether they are making their payments? Is it even possible to call the mortgage bank for a property and check whether it is current?

    • jj_hippie says:

      In Georgia, you can verify home ownership by going to http://www.qpublic.net. If you know the address, you can find out lots of useful details such as the owner’s full name, how much the house has been appraised for, history of all sales, and even pictures (usually for newer houses). I found my current rental through Craigslist and haven’t had any problems. There were lots of sketchy ads on Craigslist, but this one was legit – turned out it was a young married couple who wanted to get into the business of fixing up foreclosed homes and renting them out, and this was their first go at it so they didn’t know any other way to post a listing. I took someone with me the first time I went to the house to meet them (after all, it was Craigslist…) and the female homeowner had brought someone with her as well (after all, it was Craigslist…).

  7. alilz says:

    I’ve found my last 2 apartments through Craigslist and didn’t have an issue. Neither of my landlords have an online presence, in 1 case the landlady lived in the building and in the other situation the the landlord owned several duplexex/quads but didn’t have a website or anything.

    To “You haven’t seen the apartment” I’d add to that — the landlord pretty much tells you not to look at the apartment and someone will mail you/meet you to give you the key.

    I found 2 ads that were semi sketchy and I got that response. Plus long, detailed, epic tales about the family situation and why the apartment is for rent and for so cheap.

  8. shthar says:

    I always thought this would be a great scam.

    Get a place to rent, advertise it at a great price.

    When people want to see it, chargem $50 to run a credit check.

    Since the rental has a great price, people will pay the $50.

    Take the $50.

    Wait for the next sucker.

    When the people don’t hear from you, they’ll figure they didn’t pass the check and they’ll be too busy looking for another place to live to give it any thought.

    • Mrs. w/1 child says:

      Um, this is exactly how a lot of “great deals” work in Chicago! An “application fee” is a way for a landlord to make $500 dollars a week showing his place until he finds a person he/she really likes.

      Also apartment finding services have a similar way to make money but it really isn’t a scam just unethical. They take you to look at places, the worst ones first hoping you will be dumb enough to rent out one of the dumps in a bad neighborhood. After a weary few hours of looking at a bunch of crappy places, they finally take you to a decent place. It probably isn’t the best place they have a contract with but if you were not stupid enough to move a block away from the projects now you have been primed all day with terrible options. And you are tired and hungry.

      So you decide to take it. Then the rip off happens. They take your deposit and first months rent and any “application fee” and hold it while they “process” your application. They fail to mention this can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. In the meantime, maybe you found a better deal, but too late they have your money and will hold it for as long as they can. If they really want to sucker you, they tell you that you didn’t get the apartment (the landlord is picky, etc.) but they can hold your deposit and rent to apply toward another apartment. It is worse than dealing with used car salesmen.

      NEVER give a deposit or rent until you have a lease. Make them run the background check or process the application or whatever and give you an answer BEFORE you give them money. No lease? No money!

      Also, if a landlord is desperate enough to pay one months commission to a rental agency or broker that means the apartment can’t rent on it’s own. It is too expensive or too dumpy. The good apartments that are not scams are usually gone within a few days of being shown (before the current occupant even moves out).

      Of course I live in a larger city YMMV.

      • humphrmi says:

        This works until you have great credit. I once talked to a landlord who was just twisting everything to try to get a refundable “deposit” out of me. I was still looking and hadn’t made a decision. I finally told him, “I’ve got an 800 FICO, no negatives, and a lawyer with an itchy filing finger. Are you sure you need a deposit from me?” He gave up. Of course by that point I was totally put off and gave him and his apartment a pass.

  9. lyllydd says:

    Add one more sign. The ‘landlord’ refuses to actually give you a lease to sign, and demands money up front.
    My idiot husband is in the process of getting us embroiled in this one. We are in desperate need of a place to live, and genius boy knows somebody who will sublet to us. Problem is, we need to move the day after tomorrow, and the so-called landlord will not produce a copy of the lease for us to read or sign.
    Readers, to protect yourself from this one, demand a copy of the lease. Also, don’t marry a gullible moron.