Rental Scams

Rental Scams – Cheating Both Landlords and Tenants

Image rental scams

Landlords and tenants should be wary because rental scams are on the rise as criminals move in to take advantage of the volatile housing market.

Many people never consider how easy it is to take advantage of someone looking for a property to rent. Few give it a second thought. Fewer still take the steps necessary to ensure the person they’re renting to or from isn’t a criminal until it’s too late.

Avoiding rental scams begins with understanding how they work. Once you know what to look for, your chances of identifying one before you hand over your money increase enormously.

Ploys used by scammers to steal rent money:

  • Renting with the intent of renting to others. This scam works just how it sounds. A scam artist rents a property so they can show it to other prospective renters. They’ll collect first and last month’s rent, security deposits and any fees or charges they can squeeze out of their victims before skipping town with the loot. There have been reports of a single property being leased or rented to dozens of people before the crook vanished with their money.
  • Renting on behalf of the owner. This scam is similar to the previous one but there’s one major difference: the scam artist claims to be helping someone else rent the property. They might be sick, or overseas, or just too busy to do it themselves for whatever reason. Once the scammer collects first, last, deposits and fees they skip town. The renter then discovers the home wasn’t for rent. The owners or renters may have been away for business or pleasure, or it’s a vacation home, or it could be a foreclosed property. Either way you’re out the money if you fall for it.
  • Nigerian Rental Scams. This scam is a variation of the two previous scams but differs in that it takes place on the internet and the scammer doesn’t need to be present and may never have been to the property. This scam is especially dangerous because it targets both property owners and renters. One flavor of this scam involves a crook finding a photo of a property and its address then posting them on Craigslist or other online rental websites hoping someone will be willing to wire them the first and last month’s rent, security deposits, and assorted fees (Sound familiar?). If you think no one falls for this, guess again. People are generally quite trusting and the ad will be so enticing that the potential renters will think they’re getting a bargain.

    A variation of this scam is the classic Nigerian 419 scam. Someone will answer an online posting for a property and ask to pay by Western Union or an equivalent money wiring service. If the landlord takes the bait, and many do, the renter will “accidently” pay too much. The renter will apologize and ask for the extra funds to be sent back to them. If the landlord doesn’t wait for the payment to clear the bank and sends the money, they’re out whatever they send. That’s the scam and it’s very successful.

Now that you know a few of the most common rental scams, let’s look at how to detect and avoid them! Below are some ways you can find out if you’re dealing with the actual property owner.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed When Renting an Apartment

Renting an apartment is one of a person’s biggest expenses — both in terms of initial cash outlay for first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and deposit and the monthly rent payments. Thieves looking for an easy source of cash are well aware of this. Here’s how to avoid getting scammed.

1. Verify the owner of the apartment

When out looking for an apartment, verify that everyone you talk to is who they say they are. One of the most common schemes involves someone saying they are a manager of an apartment when they aren’t and taking a deposit. If you’re looking at large complexes with a clearly marked leasing office, you’re probably safe. With small buildings or house rentals, always check public records to verify who the owner is and verify the person you’re dealing with actually works for them.
Search local government websites for the rental properties address and make sure the name listed matches the landlord’s ID.

2. Never pay cash

Never pay cash so that there is a trail of where your money went. This is especially true if you do wind up paying the wrong person. A receipt means very little — if they’ve just lied to you about owning the apartment, writing up a false receipt means nothing to them. A check gives you more protection than just saying who you wrote it to — it is also returned to your bank with the account information of the person who cashed it. If you were scammed, the authorities will be able to trace it and you’ll have a higher chance of recovering.

3. View online reviews with suspicion

The places with the best reviews are often the places with the biggest problems. Very few actual tenants leave apartment reviews, so an apartment with a large number of five-star reviews in a short period of time is likely paying someone to write them to cover up bad reviews. On the other hand, many tenants who had a bad experience will go out of their way to leave the worst review possible. Use reviews to check for common complaints such as noise or bugs, but don’t rely solely on them to make big decisions.

4. Check your lease carefully

Some apartment managers go so far as to write in a higher rent amount than you discussed and to demand payment for that amount when rent is due. Other tricks include additional fees, putting appliance repair costs on you, or wording the lease so that a short last month is still full price. Although technically not illegal, you’ll still feel ripped off when you discover you’ve fallen for one of these tricks.

5. Consider using a broker

Even in areas where apartment brokers aren’t common, they may be helpful, especially with a long-distance apartment search. They will already be familiar with what companies are legitimate and will have heard of any major problems. Just be sure you know how they are paid — if they receive money from apartment complexes or their pay increases if your rent does, understand that they have an incentive that doesn’t necessarily match your best interests. Brokers are licensed so you can check with their state to see if they are legitimate. They may also offer protections such as insurance in case of fraud.

Rental Scam Tips for Property Owners

If you’re a property owner, we offer the following tips to help you protect your investment:

  • Keep a watchful eye on your home. If you don’t live nearby, consider hiring a home watch service to periodically check the home for odd activity.
  • Change the locks frequently if you rent the property often. If your previous tenants kept a copy of the keys, they have access to the home!
  • Ask potential tenants for references and follow up by checking them.
  • Verify your tenant’s employment by contacting their employer.
  • Run a credit check on potential tenants before renting to them.
  • Don’t let a tenant pay more than you asked for then demand a refund. If you give it to them, you’re out the money.
  • Use Google or another search engine to look up the name, phone number, and prior address. While you’re at it, check police records to find out if you’re dealing with a known criminal.

This may seem like a lot of work but much of it can be done quickly in front of your computer. If you ask anyone that’s been bilked out of their rent money, they’ll tell you it’s time well spent.

Nigerian Rental Scams – How to detect and avoid them

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Nigerian rental schemes involve conning people into wiring rent money overseas. These online rental scams are on the rise so it’s important to know what to look for to avoid being ripped off!

We’ve seen so many stories about Nigerian style rental scams that we’ve decided to devote a tip of the day to them in the hopes that renters and landlords being targeted by these scams can recognize what’s going on before it’s too late.

Nigerian scams have many variations but boil down to conning people into sending money overseas through money wire transfer services like Western Union. Some of these schemes are obvious and easy to dismiss. Others are more elaborate and detecting them can be quite challenging because they appear to be legitimate offers at first glance. These are the scams you have to worry about. Luckily, there are warning signs that can tip you off before you get scammed.

Nigerian Rental Scam Warning Signs

  • You are contacted via email regarding a property. You may have posted on Craigslist, for instance, so email is hardly unexpected. Be on the lookout for poor grammar or comments that make no sense.
  • The request comes from outside the country. This may turn out to be a legitimate inquiry but once you know it originated from somewhere overseas proceed with caution.
  • There is a sense of urgency. If you feel pressured to act quickly because of some immediate need, be especially cautious. Scam artists count on decisions made in haste.
  • Third parties become involved. If the person wanting to rent your property needs to use a friend or someone else as an intermediary in order to pay, you should be at your own highest alert level. This is a common Nigerian Scam ploy.
  • You will be overpaid. This is one of the tricks these scam artists use to get money out of you. Normally, you would be the one receiving cash in a transaction. In this case, however, the check or money order is made out for more than you requested. Oops. Now they’ll want you to wire the extra amount back to them. Once you do, they back out of the entire arrangement and days later you will find out that the check or money order was a forgery and you’re stuck with the loss.

How to avoid Nigerian rental scams

  • Only deal with landlords or renters local to you.
  • Do not let someone pay more than you asked for.
  • Do a web search for the renter’s name to see what comes up.
  • If the payment arrives in the form of a money order, inspect it carefully in case it’s a counterfeit. Despite your best attempts to determine its authenticity, it may still turn out to be a forgery.
  • Do not let someone else use your name or Social Security number to buy a property, especially if they offer to pay you for using it.
  • Don’t do anything until the money order or check clears the bank. You could be pressured to act sooner and you might even receive threats. Don’t give into anything. Nigerian scams depend on you sending money to someone before the money order clears the bank.

16 Responses

  1. Sharon says:

    In a situation with a small apartment complex, can you please give some information about how to tell if the person offering the rental is the owner (or acting for the owner)? For example, in Denver, if you look up a property owner on the county website, oftentimes it is listed as a company that is difficult to find, or a law office, and they won’t tell you who the “real” owner is. I think sometimes the owner of a property does this because they don’t want to be bothered by tenants directly, and they want the tenant to deal with the manager instead. But that creates a problem if one is looking for a new place to rent–how can a prospective renter deduce that a prospective “landlord” has a valid connection to the property?

  2. Jenny says:

    What should you do if you’ve already given personal information (copy of drivers license and birthday) before you found out it was a scam?

  3. Vance says:

    I am a renter and contacted him through craigslist. He said he moved to Texas from Ohio. He wants us to send the deposit before he sends the keys. Any suggestions or comments?

    • Akeeme Flemister says:

      Do not do it

    • David says:

      Hi I actually am going through the same thing this guy claiming to renting me his house wants me to send him deposit before he releases the hold on the keys he is also from texas

      • Danny says:

        I’m going through that right now. Search the address online and look for other listings. You’ll likely find the real owner. We just did, never send money in a situation like that. There are always ways to verify identity and ownership, and provide keys/access when the offer is sincere

      • Lori says:

        If I hadn’t found this website, I would be going thru the same thing right now. I have a guy in Texas waiting on me to Western Union him the deposit and first months rent. I got a bad feeling and decided to do a little research. Looks like this is a scam. After I send him the money, he will overnight Fed Ex the keys to me. Yeah, sure he will, lol.

        • Synn says:

          This is absolutely a scam. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT send application fees, deposits, rent or any other funds through the mail, via wire or western union. Be ESPECIALLY leery, if it’s a house for rent and the monthly asking price is lower than other homes in the area for rent. DO YOUR RESEARCH! Laziness and ignorance is costly and heartbreaking. If the rental is offering utilities including that’s another RED flag. In terms of a scam, it means that they don’t want you trying to schedule a transfer of utilities, which is a sure-fire way to find out that you are being scammed. They want to have your money and be in the wind before that happens. Be careful! It doesn’t matter what your financial situation is, there is something legitimate out there for you. Don’t desperately fall for the okey-doke thinking you can’t go the normal route because of credit, job, etc. The old adage is true, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

    • Delicia says:

      It’s a scam

    • Haley says:

      i’m going through a similar situation. i found an add for a beautiful 3 bedroom for $550 a month in Colorado Springs, and i contacted the landlord (he moved from Colorado to Texas his job apparently) and he said he changed the rent to $500 and the security deposit was $1,000. he also offered rent to own. he told me his name and told me that i could call the colorado springs county office, and verify that the same name is on the house. He said after we made at least a $500 payment that he would FedEx us the keys with a tracking number so i can track them. i was also told he would be having me make payment via moneygram to his lawyer. i was sent a rental questionnaire, no personal questions other than my home address, and after i sent it back, i received a lease. the lease says rent is $550 still, i asked him about it and he says not to worry and that rent will still only be $500. I got his number and looked it up and it was a Houston number. I also looked up the houston county website and looked for houses that were owned by him. there were a couple that had his name on there. i’m not sure what to do. he says he is not here to rip me off and that he wouldn’t be waiting for me if he was going to rip me off. he knows i won’t be moving into the house for a couple months due to being in a lease currently. someone plz tell me what i should do

  4. Many Gomez says:

    Also landlords, specially home renters should pay attention to the “my wife scam”. The crook shows up with a cash amount corresponding to 1 week rental, doesn’t need the receipt right away, but in a few days he and “his wife” will pay 2 months in advance and at this time 1 receipt for the whole rent will be requested. He requests 2 keys. You will never see the wife until a few days later when she comes inquiring if the love of her life is at home, she is worried that he might be very sick and wants to know if $2,400.00 that she gave to him have been paid towards the 1st and last month. When the landlord explains that haven’t seen neither her love nor the money, she request the owner to open the door of the unit (the crook never gave her a copy of a key). We found that the door was open and nothing was left inside.
    Losses/headaches to the owner: She can’t believe it and calls the police, the police wants to know his identity and blames the landlord for not registering the crook (I explained that I was secured money wise, and the registration was to take place soon in the presence of the wife). Police reluctantly accept it. In disbelief the disgruntled “wife” makes a scene, crying and shouting that can be heard until the end of the street.
    What a crook!!!…………
    Please publicize “My dear wife rental scum”.

  5. Southern California Landlord says:

    Beware of advertisements posted on and We are the owner of several residential rental properties. By way of a prospective tenant, we learned our information which we had posted on Craigslist and Zillow, had been modifed and posted on the and by someone claiming they were the owner/property manager and asking for a unbelievable low rent. They also texted back/forth with the prospective tenants, who would have given that person money. I felt sorry for this young couple and researched finding out this person/s use the phone numbers of:
    Where all have multiple rentals, around the US, posted for rent and ridiculously low rents for each respective area. I’ve also reported this to the host websites, with a request they remove the post for our property, as well as block the people who are doing such posting.

    • mary says:

      Yup just experienced this. House was on for very very low rental price. Said all bills included. Left a voicemail on a Kansas number (house in Texas). Received a text message next evening. I said I wanted to see the house. He said him & his wife were pastors and travels a lot for missionary trips and hired a rental company but they were charging too much rent so they were going to rent it themselves to a Christian family affordably to bless them. A Nigerian man then called me from a south Carolina area code. I went to the house I looked it up on tax office. House listed as $220,000 . He was only asking $1000 a month that included utilities. I spoke to neighbors who laughed and said house goes for over $2000 a month and they have never seen a neigerian couple there. When he called me he asked didn’t I love the house and I could western union him the deposit and rent. Needless to say I said no and drove home. But sadly people fall for this cause you want to believe you found the deal of s lifetime. And he gives you the lockbox code to get in the house.

  6. Angie M. says:

    Fallen victim to rental scammers in palm desert ca. Sheriffs are threatening to arrest me leaving me homeless on the the street as if im not the victim like I have no rights crying out for help as we speak dont know what to do

  7. Kelsy says:

    Hey some guy has keys to a few properties and is wanting to rent one to me he claims his parents own them and he deals with them but I feel its a scam what to do it’s inn a gated community very nice area he lows the lock code to get in the gate he has keys and a lease I need advive

  8. Joel says:

    I am Joel. The apt i rent is owned by a corporation they are scaming neighbor apt was flooded bad toilet they tried to get him and his family to stay with friends or family until they fix everything. Instead of putting them up in another apt or motel.he didn’t let them get away with that after they fix everything they were billed for all the repairs and me i ask them to check for bugs they did and i got a the report nothing found in apt and they did a general spray i was billed they put they spray for bed bugs this is the only spray they don’t cover they look for many things to bill renters for what is the chance management is getting benefits when they convince renters its there obligation to pay for things the owners are responsible for

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