If you’ve ever searched online for an apartment or rental home, you may have stumbled across some fake listings, which could cost you big money if you send a deposit to a scammer.
Rental scams are frustrating for anyone looking for a new apartment or home to rent these days. But they are just as frustrating for landlords who say they see their properties reposted online by scammers almost daily and can only watch from the sidelines as innocent victims fall for this scam.
Gina Brown is one of those frustrated landlords. She owns several small homes and rents them out.
Lately, she says, scammers are trying to rent them out too and are stealing deposit money from young renters who sometimes drain their bank accounts to put down a deposit.
“They copy my ads from Zillow,” she told us. “Then they list my houses for $700 or $800 less than what they are actually being advertised for.”
Brown showed us one of her home listings, renting for $1,849 a month. But she says renters found the same listing on Facebook Marketplace for as low as $900 or $1,000 a month.
“They Venmo a month’s rent to a scammer,” she said.
Brown has even met heartbroken renters at the front door, who claimed they had sent her hundreds of dollars.
“I had one instance where a lady drove two and a half hours, accepted a job here locally, and thought she was moving into my house,” she says.
She says the woman was devastated when she learned Brown had already rented it to someone else, who had signed a lease and was moving into the home in a few days.
Rental Scams Are Worse Than Ever
Rental fraud like this is far more common than you’d think. In one study, 43% of renters said they encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent.
Miranda Marquit of the moving site “Hire a Helper” says most legitimate landlords will ask for enough information to run a background or credit check before they ask for a deposit.
“If you’ve got somebody who is eager to make a deal without going through those steps, that could be a red flag,” Marquit said.
Other red flags to watch for:
- Instructions to wire money or send it via Zelle or Venmo, which is untraceable
- Asking for a security deposit or one month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease
- Finding the same ad listed in other towns
- The landlord is out of state, and cannot meet you in person
“Do some research on that landlord,” she said. “Do they live in the country? Are they claiming to be out of the country?”
And report fake listings to Zillow or Facebook when you see them to help future renters and frustrated landlords like Brown.
“Unfortunately, they seem to be everywhere,” Brown said.
So check that ad thoroughly and make sure you are dealing with the real landlord so you don’t waste your money.