How to Reduce Your Chance of Falling Victim to a Rental Scam

For most people, housing constitutes their largest monthly expense, whether they are renting or buying, or even doing a rent to own transaction. Therefore anyone who is shelling out a sizable amount of money in a bid to have a roof over their head needs to be sure that they will get what they pay for. In the case of rental scams, this is unfortunately far from the case.

Fortunately, more than ever, the internet has made it possible for anyone to easily find a place to live. You no longer need your family and friends to help you find suitable accommodation or drive through various neighborhoods to find a rental property that suits your needs. This can be done with a few clicks of a button using a platform like Rentable. However, there is a drawback to this.

The digital world has become a haven for all manner of illegal and shady activities, and the phenomenon of rental scams is no exception. A rental scam usually occurs when someone advertises a rental property that is not available for rent or that they do not have any rights to or association with. The main objective is usually to get an unsuspecting victim to part with their hard-earned money while not getting what they paid for.

Rental scams happen in various ways. For example, some scammers will steal the description and photos from a real listing and repost them with their own contact information on other property listing platforms. Many unsuspecting potential tenants sadly fall into this trap by contacting them and in some cases, they eventually end up losing money. Sadly, most victims never figure out that they are dealing with fraudsters until money has been exchanged.

The fact is that rental scams are on the rise and they are occurring even on popular and reputable rental websites. So, how do you make sure that you aren’t taken advantage of?

How do you recognize a rental scam before you fall victim to it?

While it might not always be possible to prevent a rental scam, there are several ways you can reduce the risk of it happening. In fact, there are always red flags. The problem is that most people usually don’t pay attention to them. In this article, we’ll go over some of the best strategies to uncover these red flags and reduce the chance of falling victim to a rental scam. 

Tips to Avoid Falling Victim to a Rental Scam

  1. Be aware of the applicable market rental rates

One of the initial signs of a rental scammer is when they charge well below market rates. While every renter always wants to find the best possible deal that meets their budget, the fact remains, if the rent is too good to be true, it probably is.

To know what price is reasonable, you should look at the prices of other comparable rentals in the area. Chances are that a property that has been listed at a significantly lower price than the market rate is probably a scam.

Rental scammers know that most people will act quickly to secure what they think is a good deal on a property. Therefore, they typically list a rental property at a considerably lower price to capture the interest of prospective renters. Don’t fall for this trap.

  1. Be wary of poorly written listings

A serious landlord or property management company knows the importance of being professional and making a good first impression. A listing is the first thing that a prospect will see before they decide to follow up. Therefore, their listings are usually complete and every detail is clear.

A listing is not to be trusted if it has poor grammar, typos, poor (quality) photos, or is missing crucial information like an address. Scammers will often have listings that are incomplete and sketchy. Some scammers may not even be residing in the country and English might not be their first language. If you notice many grammatical errors, be skeptical.

  1. Meet the landlord in person and view the rental property

You should never pay for a rental property before meeting the agent or the landlord. A con is usually interested in an easy victim. They want to be able to get quick money and move on to the next victim. Therefore, they wouldn’t want the hassle and risk of meeting with you. Although some might be willing to.

Apart from that, they know that meeting with you might expose them and the more time you take the more likely you will figure them out. If they avoid meeting you, simply move along. Or better still raise a public red flag so that somebody else hopefully doesn’t fall victim.

They will always come up with all sorts of excuses for why they can’t meet you or show you the property. And even in the rare event that the individual is willing to meet with you and shows you a property, that should still not be enough to justify you parting away with your hard-earned money.

Perhaps the last leg of the ‘tripod’ is to ensure that you get sent a copy of the lease or agreement for the property before you part with any money. Think of it this way: Would you enter into a contractual relationship without first knowing what the terms of the contract are?

A rental or lease or agreement is yet another opportunity that you have to find out if someone is a scammer. You should, therefore, insist on being sent an agreement so you can go through the terms, and if you get sent one, you should immediately contact a local real estate attorney near you to have a look through it to see if there is anything “off” about it, in case you are not easily able to tell by yourself.

  1. Do your research

When you have been searching for your ideal property and finally find it, naturally, you are likely to get excited and consider paying for it straight away before someone else grabs it. However, this can be a big mistake. Before you consider paying for a particular listing, you want to do your due diligence.

First, search for more information about the property online. If there is anything shady about it, chances are someone else may have previously raised a red flag about it. You should also verify the address of the listing. Does the street view that’s online match the one in the photos? If it doesn’t, you should smell a rat.

It’s also important that you meet the owner of the property before you decide to engage in any transaction. Check property records to know the real owner of the property and whether that information matches with the one you have been given.

If the person showing you the rental property is not the landlord (perhaps they claim to be the property manager or renting for the owner), you should ask for more information to ascertain their identity and their connection to the landlord. Inquire who the landlord is and how you could contact them. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about the property. If someone doesn’t know the specifics of the property, that’s a sign that they might not be legitimate.

  1. Be sure to sign a lease before paying anything

Rental scammers will often pressure you to pay a deposit and rent for the first month as soon as possible to secure the property. They will try to persuade you that if you don’t act quickly enough someone else could take your place. However, no matter how desperate you are, make sure you sign a lease before making any payment.

Be wary of people who pressure you to act quickly without asking for your background information or needing you to sign a lease. A lease is an important document that offers legal protection for both the renter and the landlord. Therefore, any legitimate rental agent or landlord will make sure that you have read through the lease and signed it accordingly. If you have any concerns about the property or contents of the lease, you should bring up with the landlord. If a lease is not provided, seems sketchy, or they say it’s not necessary, then you are probably on the verge of being scammed.

  1. Never Pay Cash

To avoid falling victim to a rental scam, also make sure that you never pay a landlord in cash or wire money that is hard to trace, especially for the first payment. Rental scammers know that law enforcement agencies could track them if they use other forms of payment. They would, therefore, insist on cash.

If a landlord can’t accept any other form of payment, they might be avoiding leaving a paper trail. When you find yourself dealing with such people, just walk away and find another house. Preventing rental fraud is better than trying to recover from one. Once you pay out money that can’t be traced, getting it back is very unlikely.

The Bottom Line

It is increasingly becoming costly to put a roof over your head, whether you are renting or buying your own home. To avoid losing your hard-earned money to rental scammers, you should learn how to recognize the warning signs when something is amiss.

Diligently following these guidelines will ensure that you find your dream home without being anxious about rental fraud. Tricksters are everywhere but the best way to stop them in their tracks is to take extra precaution. If a rental opportunity seems shady just leave it and find another one. It’s not worth your hard-earned money and peace of mind. Also, make sure you search for rental properties on trusted rental websites only. Though not 100% safe, they are more likely to have legitimate listings.

If by bad luck you fall victim to a rental scam, remember to report to your local authorities right away. Sometimes the scammer may be tracked down and be apprehended and you might cover your money. You will also be protecting other people from falling victim to them.