Rental scams are real, and they’re common, unfortunately, especially on popular search sites like Zillow and Apartments.com. Here are ways to tell if it’s a scam immediately.
1. They don’t want to meet in person.
While meeting in person might not fit in everyone’s schedules, you should at least do a walk-through of the rental or a video call to confirm the person and property is real and exists. A good landlord will want to meet future tenants to know who is living in their property and ensure you’re legit. Scammers will avoid meeting in person, so you won’t be able to report them later.
2. They want you to move in without viewing the property.
Before signing a lease or sending money, you absolutely must see the property. It’s easy for scammers to create a fake listing and claim they have a property. Avoid scams by visiting the property in person and checking to see it’s available. If it’s a scam, they won’t have a way to let you inside, and they might tell you to walk around outside instead. This is a red flag.
3. They ask for rent or a security deposit before signing the lease.
A definite sign of a scammer is if they ask for money before viewing the property or before a lease is signed. Someone claiming to be the property manager, landlord, or realtor might ask you this. As a renter, never give anyone money until you see the property and all parties have signed a lease. Application fees are the exception since they help pay for the cost of a background check.
4. It’s too good to be true.
If it seems too good to be true, it just might be, especially when it comes to price. Scammers use a method called “bait and switch,” where they lure you in with an attractive price, then take it off the market and replace it with a similar but more expensive unit. They do this to try to force you to act fast as if the apartments lease out quickly.
To check the property’s price, do your research to understand what the market rates are and what other comparable properties are costing.
5. There is no screening process.
As a tenant, you want to have a responsive and responsible landlord. A legit landlord will have a screening process to choose qualified tenants. If they don’t require a rental application and credit check, this should be a warning to you. This means the landlord doesn’t care about who rents their place, or it’s a scam. For both scenarios, that should worry you.