As more people come around to renting, rental scams continue to pop up. Fortunately, knowing how rental scams work and how to avoid falling for them goes a long way when it comes to protecting yourself. Before we share how, here are some of the most common rental scams to watch out for.
- Phantom rental scam: In this rental scam, someone makes up a listing for a place that doesn’t exist. These fake ads will often boast attractive prices and desirable amenities. The goal: to get you to part with your money before you catch on.
- Multiple rental scam: This one involves someone renting a property and showing it to many prospective renters. The scam artist will then collect security deposits, the first month’s rent and fees from several people before skipping town.
- Renting for the owner rental scam: This one is similar to the multiple rental scam. The main difference is the con artist claims to be helping someone else rent the property. The scammer will collect security deposits, the first month’s rent and fees before the rightful owner of the property catches on.
- Online rental scams: These ones can burn both the renter and the landlord. In ones that target renters, a scammer will upload a photo of a property to an online rental site. The scammer hopes they can get someone to wire security deposits, the first month’s rent and other fees so they can take the money and run.
On the landlord side, a potential renter will “accidentally” overpay a landlord. The renter will then ask the landlord to wire the “overpayment” to him or her. When the landlord does so before the initial money clears the bank, the landlord loses the money that he or she remitted for the “overpayment.” The scammer, meanwhile, will cancel the checks given to the landlord.
5 tips to protect yourself from rental scams
- Never wire money. A request to wire money is one of the surest signs of a rental scam. Once money is wired, there is no way to ever get it back.
- Sign a lease before you hand over any cash. You should never hand over a security deposit or any other money before you’ve met the landlord in person and signed a lease. Also take the time to search the owner and the listing—scammers will often list the same rental on different websites.
- Be extra cautious when dealing with long-distance landlords. If you can’t meet in person before you sign a lease or hand over money, it’s better to play it safe and pass on the rental.
- Refrain from sharing any personal information. A potential landlord should never ask for your bank account number or Social Security Number.
- Don’t do business with anyone claiming an affiliation with Zillow. Zillow is an online real estate database company that is never involved in transactions between individuals. Anyone offering to be affiliated with Zillow in this way is a scammer.
- Report any potential rental scams. If you suspect a rental scam, file a report with your local police station and the Federal Trade Commission.