9 Signs That Adorable Apartment Listing Is Really a Rental Scam

apartment interior
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Apartment hunting can make even the most calm people anxious about navigating open houses and analyzing budgets for the 16th time. And if you’re pressed for time or moving to an unfamiliar area, that stress can cloud your judgment.

That’s when fraudsters have the advantage.

A survey by Apartment List found that 6.4% of renters have lost money to an apartment-rental scam. One in three of those people lost more than $1,000.

The survey of more than 1,000 renters found that younger renters may be more susceptible to fraud. Of renters between 18 and 29 years old, 9.1% had been duped by a rental scam.

Some of the most common rental scams include listings for properties that don’t exist, fake listings for real properties, and collecting security deposits for units that have already been leased.

Lies about amenities can trip up renters, too. The surveyed renters said that laundry facilities in the unit or building were often advertised when they didn’t exist. Advertising about heat and air conditioning also frequently didn’t live up in reality.

Just over 43% of renters surveyed said they had seen a listing they thought was a fake.

9 Warning Signs of a Rental Scam

How can you avoid being one of the more than 5 million people Apartment List estimates have been victims of rental fraud in the U.S.?

It takes a lot of common sense, a healthy dose of skepticism and a dash of cautious optimism.

Watch out for these signs that something’s not quite right:

  • The apartment listing is priced much lower than other similar homes in the area.
  • The landlord or rental agent pressures you to pay an application fee for a property you haven’t yet seen.
  • You’re shown a unit that’s different from the one advertised.
  • You don’t see the amenities in the unit that were advertised online.
  • You’re asked to sign a lease or pay a deposit before seeing a property.
  • A rental listing is riddled with spelling and grammar errors.
  • You’re asked to wire money for a security deposit. It’s the same as sending cash, so there’s no chance of getting a refund if the deal goes sideways.
  • You’re asked to pay a security deposit or rent before you sign a lease.
  • You’re asked for your Social Security number or financial information by email or phone.

A legitimate landlord or property management company should be willing to share details about where they’re located and how they do business. Some extra sleuthing, like searching the address for the property and checking out a street view, can help you be sure the property truly exists.

If you suspect you’re being scammed, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and your state attorney general.  

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.