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Rental Listing Scams Leave Hopeful Renters Out In The Cold And Flat Broke

Published: April 20, 2023 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.

Searching for a new place to live can be stressful enough, but when rental scammers get involved the stress ratchets-up into overdrive. These scams have become so common and financially devastating that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) got involved to help keep them from happening.

But scammers also know finding the ideal place to live is difficult, so they list nice properties with crazy-low rent. That’s all they need to do to get potential victims interested and quick to put their money down on their new home. Sadly, at some point they’ll realize the rental doesn’t exist, at least in the way they promised.

It’s a “renter beware” situation and those plowing into listings without taking the time to think their incredible find may not be so credible after all. To survive a rental scam intact, it’s essential to remember the adage “If it looks too good to be true, it is.” The Better Business Bureau finds pictures of real properties are often included in the sales pitch, along with the demand to provide a security deposit and one month rent upfront. The rental may not exist, but the money surely does.

Different scammers use variations on the same theme, but the endgame is always guaranteed. These phantom rentals can be found anywhere, from Craig’s List to your local supermarket bulletin board. Knowing what to look for can help prevent you or a friend from falling prey to this heartless scam.

When What You See Isn’t What You Get

  • First, realize how rare a “total steal” on a rental really is. Stay clear of “unbelievable” deals because the truth is, you shouldn’t believe them.

  • Beware of a property owner who is never around, and even worse, say they’re out of the country and please deal with their representative. Truth is, you’ll never meet them because scammers stay anonymous. Some rental scammers go so far as to make fake contracts and keys they send to the victim.

  • The FTC warns not to wire payments, especially overseas. They recommend using a credit card or a trusted rental agent with a secure payment system.

  • If you’re told seeing a potential rental isn’t possible at the time, which is always the answer, run, don’t walk. The same goes for never meeting the owner or their “rental agent” even via a video conference platform. Continued excuses not to meet are rampant, so stay aware.

  • In general, being alert and truthful about rental second thoughts, including using your Spidey-sense, can keep you from a world of financial hurt and new home disappointment.

  • Keep rental searching as real as you can, and should you come upon a phantom rental scam, contact the FTC and make them aware of it. Remember, you’re not just helping yourself, you’re helping future rental-hopefuls, too.

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