Knowledge Center

Rental Fraud: How to Spot and Avoid Rental Scams

Reading time: 4 minutes

Highlights:

  • Rental scams occur when a property owner misrepresents themselves, the rental property in question or the terms of a lease in an attempt to obtain money for a fraudulent offer.
  • Recognizing warning signs in a rental listing can help you avoid rental scammers and find your ideal home as safely as possible.
  • If you believe you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, consider filing a report with the proper authorities.

Rental scams occur when a property owner misrepresents themselves, the rental property in question or the terms of a lease in an attempt to obtain money for a fraudulent offer.

Scammers may advertise a rental property that doesn’t exist or that has already been filled, then attempt to collect payment up front, leaving the renter in the lurch. Scammers may create fake websites to make these offers seem legitimate or post a fake listing using a legitimate platform such as Craigslist or Facebook.

However, by recognizing warning signs in a rental listing, you can avoid rental scammers and find your ideal home as safely as possible.

Common signs of rental scams

While no two rental scams are exactly alike, there are common warning signs that could indicate you’re in danger of becoming a victim of fraud. Keep an eye out for these red flags:

  1. The listing is copied or vague. Rental scammers may copy a legitimate listing and replace the contact name and other information with their own. The new advertisement may be copied word for word and could include a rental company logo or other type of watermark on the photos, making it seem legitimate. In reality, the scammer may not be associated with the property at all.

    Keep a careful eye out for listings that appear on a rental platform more than once, or whose basic details are vague or missing.
     
  2. No lease is available. If there is no lease available or the lease you receive is incomplete, the listing or property manager likely does not have your best interests in mind. Without a lease in place, your rental terms could change whenever and however the listing owner wants. Worse, it’s easy for the rental scammer to disappear with your money, leaving you with no legal claim to the property.
     
  3. The address isn’t verified. If you’re starting to suspect that there’s something fishy about a property management company, search the rental address online. Some listings may have addresses that aren’t verified or don’t exist at all. You might also find that the property is in foreclosure, that it’s listed multiple times or that the listing agent is not actually associated with the management company.
     
  4. The listing agent or property manager asks you to wire money or pay in an unusual way. If the property manager asks you to wire money, the listing is most likely a scam. There is typically no reason to wire money for application fees, security deposits or rent payments. It’s also important to understand that wiring money is like sending cash — once it has left your bank account, you won’t be able to get it back. Legitimate real estate professionals will not ask you to pay with cash, wire transfers or gift cards, especially if you have not yet seen the property.
     
  5. The listing agent or property manager asks for money before you sign a lease. Another common rental scam is when the property manager or listing agent asks you to send money before you sign a lease, see the property in person or meet the agent. Committing to a rental property sight unseen is risky. Generally, you should meet the agent or send a trusted friend or family member to see the property before signing a lease and paying any fees.
     
  6. The listing agent or property manager won’t let you tour the property. Scammers may tell you that the owner is out of the country or otherwise unavailable for a tour, or require you to pay a fee to see the place. These are all red flags; you should never send money before taking a tour of the property.
     
  7. The rent is suspiciously low. If the property is listed for far less than other rentals in the surrounding area, this is a strong sign that the listing is a scam. Thoroughly vet the listing by doing your own research and comparing the advertised rent with nearby units of a similar size. If the price seems too good to be true, it very well could be.
     

How to report housing fraud

If you believe you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, consider taking action:

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If you suspect fraud or become a victim of a rental scam, contact the FTC immediately. You can report rental scams and any other kinds of fraud on the FTC website at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
     
  • Contact law local enforcement. Report the suspected fraud to law enforcement in the community where the rental property is listed.
     
  • Contact the site where the listing was found. Notifying the site where the listing was posted allows the owner of a legitimate website to take down the fraudulent listing and prevent other potential tenants from falling victim to the same scam.
     

When you’re planning a move, be on the lookout for signs of rental fraud. Learning how to spot and report housing scams can help you feel confident when it comes time to search for the rental property of your dreams.

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