As the summer moving season approaches, Better Business Bureau warns consumers about rental scams. Finding a new place to live is stressful, and scammers know that people in the midst of moving don’t always have time to do the necessary research. Don’t be one of them!

How the Scam Works:

You respond to an online rental listing that touts a beautiful home, low rent, and great amenities. It looks legitimate; con artists often use real photos and descriptions stolen from other websites. The “landlord” replies to your message claiming to be out of town and unable to show the property. One common scenario is that the scammer pretends to have been transferred suddenly for work.

The scammer will then create a false sense of urgency, telling you that others are interested so you must act immediately. They will ask for a security deposit and/or first month’s rent to reserve the property. The scammer may claim that you can see the property through a rental agent – only after you pay the deposit.  In some versions, the “landlord” will require prospective tenants to complete an application form, which asks for personal details like Social Security number.  No matter the details, once you send the money the result is the same. The “landlord” will stop responding to messages and disappear.  Your new home never existed.  

Tips to Avoid This Scam: 

  • Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities, and a great location. If someone offers a great rental for an extremely low price, compare the same property in the same neighborhood and ask questions. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam.
  • Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the listing, scammer’s email address, or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag. 
  • See the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. Never sign a lease or make a deposit without seeing the property in person first. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised.
  • Confirm the identity of the landlord. A legitimate landlord won’t hesitate to show their ID and allow a photo to be taken. Confirm the real property owner by checking county registers.
  • Never wire money to a stranger. Don’t give in to a sob story. Once the wired cash is gone and the deal falls through, there is no way to get the money back. Legitimate landlords should always accept payment by check.
  • Watch out for red flags. If a property has a “for sale” sign, but the “landlord” wants to rent, ask questions. It’s also suspicious to find a broken lockbox. Check local rental and sales listings. See if the property is on there before going to an open house.
  • Use the services of a reputable rental agency. Find agents on BBB.org.

If you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, use your experience to help others avoid falling prey by reporting it to BBB.org/ScamTracker.