The house exists. It’s legit advertised for sale on real estate websites. There’s not much that will stop somebody from copying and pasting pictures they find of a home for sale on the internet. Basically, scam artists copy the listing details from an actual listing and create their own posting for the home. The home is always listed at a below-market monthly price that causes a frenzy or an urgency to nab it. People looking to rent homes are not usually on “for sale” websites, so the two ads won’t overlap.
Renting the Home Sight Unseen: Common excuses for not being able to show the home include the landlord saying they’re out of town, living overseas temporarily, or dealing with a family emergency. Although these may sound believable at first, it’s always best to avoid situations where you’re asked to pay money without meeting the landlord or at least having them show you the apartment first. If by chance, you are moving from out of state, you should do a virtual tour with the person you are communicating with. Never send money even when they tell you (and they will!) that they’ve had a high volume of interest in the home and that, in order to reserve it, you need to pay a deposit immediately via one of the many cash apps to claim it before someone else does.
There are ways to avoid rental scams:
- Search the property’s address online — this may show potential issues, such as whether a property is in foreclosure or that the supposed landlord is really not the owner.
- Search the property’s address online — if the home is for sale, it will come up mulitple times as a “for sale” listing.
- Avoid listings that are full of grammatical errors — a spelling error here or there is not cause for concern, but landlords and property managers will likely proofread a listing before it is published — so a listing with numerous errors is a red flag.
- Don’t give out personal information upfront — there is no need to provide financial information or your Social Security number while you’re still searching for a rental.
- Meet the landlord in person: Though some scammers will readily meet tenants in person, many, especially those operating from over-seas, will not. A personal meeting with the landlord will allow you to screen out some con artists.
- Be wary of a landlord who asks you to wire funds, use a cash app or pay in cash: Checks and cashier checks are returned to your bank with account information of the person who cashed it.
- Be aware of high-pressure tactics: Landlords who are not interested in a potential tenant’s background, don’t ask for a credit check, require upfront payments before any lease is signed or someone offering a sublease without proper authority could be signs of a scam.
The Bottom Line: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If you see an affordable home in the exact location you want to live in and the rent is way below what others are charging, there may be a problem. Scammers prey on long-distance, first-time home renters, and those who aren’t internet savvy. If you run into a rental scam you should contact the website that published the listing.