Chicago Tribune had a very important article about how to spot and avoid rental scams. Sadly, it is relatively easy to scam people online when it comes to rentals as most people, especially in hot rental markets are desperate enough to take shortcuts, even when their common sense dictates otherwise.
Below are some of the main signs that can help you spotting and avoiding rental scams:
- Scammer is asking for money BEFORE you had a chance to see the rental property in person (wire, money order, cash, credit card information or ANY other type) – This is how scammers actually steal your money and is probably the case in most, if not all rentals scams. Scammers can operate only if they don’t risk being caught so they will want to take your money remotely, without ever meeting you in person. On the other hand, no respectable landlord or property manager want you to rent the property before seeing it. Quite the opposite, real landlords can avoid a lot of hassle with future tenants by actually showing the property in and out before signing a lease. Having that said: if someone wants your money before you saw the property and uses pressuring techniques to scam you into sending money remotely, run the other way. Do not pay before seeing the property. Never.
- Price is below market, compared to similar rentals – scammers use this tactic to get your attention. You have been scanning rental websites for days and weeks and all of a sudden, a rental listing shows up with a “great” price. You will definitely check it out, won’t you? “Smart” scammers will only lower the price vs a comparable listing’s, by a small percentage (maybe only 10%-30%), so that they catch your attention but without raising red flags. Just remember: If the price is too good to be true, it is. If it catches your because it sounds like a deal, be aware, have your guards up when proceeding! While this is not a definitive sign as there can be other reasons for slightly lower price than the typical market rate, you bet that scammers will try to catch your attention one way or another. Listing rentals below market rate is one way to do that.
- Multiple listings on different sites with different prices or different contact information – this is obvious. If you saw recent rental listings of the same property listed on different sites at different prices, that should be a sign right away. If the contact information is not the same on different sites, that’s even a bigger red flag.
- Suspicious email address or phone number – Since scammers don’t want to get caught, they will avoid any trackable contact information and will probably change them often to cover their tracks. That means that they will setup dedicated phone numbers and emails for their scams using free services and discard them when they feel authorities are catching up with them. Using out of area phone numbers and free and seemingly random email addresses are not definitive signs, but should raise red flags and should make you cautious.
- Grammatical errors, weird descriptions and missing interior photos – For scammers, these scams are “number games”, the faster they reach more people, the better chance that they find a few who fall for the scam. Often time this means unprofessional rental descriptions and grammatical errors. Another sign is when there are no interior photos (as the scammer do not have access to the property) or when the interior photos are clearly stock photos and not of the actual property. These are signs left behind by “lazy” scammers, who do not even bother to spend time on making the advertisement look legitimate. Just remember, they don’t care how many people recognize their ad as a scam, as long as they are not caught, their upside is always there, focusing on that 1 person out of 1000s, who falls for the trick.
There are many more signs, but these are the most recognizable ones. You can see learn more in the referenced Chicago Tribune article.
Disclaimer: All the above rules – of course – applies to rental listings that can be found on this website as well. Listings are sourced from different public classified ad sources and there is no guarantee that scammers are not using those sites for their acts. So no matter what source you use during your rental search, look out for these signs and never ever send money or give payment information of any kind before seeing the property yourself, including the inside of the property.