Identifying and Avoiding Rental and Landlord Fraud Scams

A pair of house keys in a mousetrap meant to represent rental and landlord fraud scamsThe COVID-19 pandemic has generated a lot of uncertainty as eviction deferrals have come to fruition. This has many in need of affordable housing, which has unfortunately uncovered a lot of scammers seeking to take advantage of peoples’ desperation. False apartment listings or hidden rental fees can be a huge burden on those already struggling financially. With these sorts of schemes becoming increasingly common, let’s review the keys to identifying and avoiding rental and landlord fraud scams.

Signs of a Rental or Landlord Fraud

The last thing you want to do when apartment hunting is fall victim to a scam. Fortunately, some red flags can help you avoid doing so. Here are some telltale signs of rental and landlord fraud scams:

  • Deposit Request Upfront: This is perhaps the most obvious sign. Scammers will request money to “hold” the rental before showing you the property or having you sign a lease.
  • Inaccessible Landlord or Leasing Agent: If the contact for the listing claims to be out of town or unavailable to meet yet still requests a security deposit, there’s a chance it’s a scam. To evade being reported, scammers often avoid in-person or video meetings.
  • Fake Listings: Even if the landlord is available to meet, they can still claim to own a fake property. These scammers will often request an unusually high deposit and disappear upon receiving the money.
  • Background Check Fee: A background and credit check isn’t anything to be concerned about, but if the landlord requests an exorbitant fee, that’s a red flag.

If the landlord offers property without a lease, that can present a significant risk to the renter. A lease is required to outline the responsibilities of the landlord and renter. Without it, both parties are susceptible to frivolous litigations.

Red Flags for Online Rental Listings

If you’ve found a listing that appears too good to be true, it very well could be. Be on the lookout for these red flags that may appear on online listings:

  • Low Rent Costs: If you happen upon a listing in a popular neighborhood that’s far below the cost of surrounding apartments, it’s wise to be skeptical, as chances are it’s fake.
  • Copied Photos: If you noticed the photos of the apartment have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) watermark, it’s likely those pictures have been copied from a real estate site. Perform a reverse image search on Google to determine if the photos appear on another real estate website.
  • Vague Description: If the details of the listing seem vague, there’s a good chance the creator of the listing has never even seen the apartment.

While it may be a nuisance to have to thoroughly research every listing you’re interested in, performing due diligence goes a long way in protecting yourself.

What to Do if You Fall Victim to a Rental Scam

These scams are cleverly disguised, so even the most diligent of people can fall victim. If you’re unfortunate enough to have been targeted by a scammer, immediately call the police and hand over all information of the interaction and then call the publishing site to report the fake listing. Secondly, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, as they’ll have more resources to track down the perpetrator. Contacting the Internet Crime Complaint Center may also help trace the activity of the scammer and put a stop to their activity.

Identifying and avoiding rental and landlord fraud scams can be complicated, but you must be aware of the red flags. When you finally find your ideal apartment, it’s also important you’re outfitted with the right insurance to cover your property. At TJ Woods Insurance, we can match both renters and landlords with insurance policies to keep them protected. If you require assistance finding a policy that suits your needs, contact us today.