Finding a house or apartment to rent can be a time-consuming, frustrating business, especially in areas where rentals are in high demand.
You need to scan online listings, newspaper ads and even scout neighborhoods where you want to live to find rental signs. But not all listings are genuine, especially online.
Consider the recent case of a women who spotted a great deal on Craigslist for a home in a desirable neighborhood. She sent an email to the address in the ad and even went to the house and peered into the windows. She started filling out a lengthy rental application and was on the verge of sending a $700 security deposit when something didn’t seem right.
The house still had a “for sale” sign out front, so she decided to contact the owner of the house to find more information. Turns out, the homeowner wasn’t renting the house at all. A scammer had lifted house photos and information from the owner’s for-sale listing. The fake ad was almost identical to the homeowner’s ad.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker received about 290 reports of such rental scams in 2019. BBB also issued an in-depth investigative study on these scams last year.
So how do you avoid getting scammed?
First, do your homework. Many counties have online listings for property that includes the owner’s name. Check the address out to see if your prospective landlord’s information matches that of the owner.
Ask lots of questions, and make sure you inspect the property. You need to look for any defects or damage before you rent so you’re not blamed for damaging the property. Make sure the landlord fixes the problem before you move into the house or apartment.
More BBB rental tips include:
- Never pay any money without first inspecting the home carefully and knowing exactly who owns - and who is leasing - the property.
- Do not surrender any credit or other personal information until you have proof that the owner is legitimate. If you have doubts, ask for proof of ownership.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Confirm that the owner is giving you his or her real name by asking for references and contacting them.
- If you make an advance payment, use a credit card in case you need to challenge the charge.
- If you have any questions, contact BBB at bbb.org or by calling 573-803-3190.