Rental Scams – Cheating Both Landlords and Tenants
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. J
ust 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
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.
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?
Went through the same thing and now he’s saying he won’t send my refundable deposit back!?
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?
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?
Do not do it
The minute I hand over the money is, the minute those keys need to be in my hand. In short No key for me=no money for lessor
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
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
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.
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.”
Oh shucks. I’m literally going through this now, this guy has a legit gmail account by the name of joy Chester his in Nigeria for volunteer work. So he is renting out his apartment and has the keys with him. So upon sending my first rental deposit he will sendthe keys and all relevant documents via FEDEX.
I haven’t sent anything. My sister in law advised me that thia is a scam. I decided to look it up and boom I got my answer. Thanks for the help guys.
Hi, I’m dealing with the same problem by chance was the home in Dallas?
It’s a scam
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
It’s a scam because FedEx does not hold keys for anyone. If you never meet the landlord and he’s pressuring you to send money before you receive the keys, it’s a scam. The rent is too cheap and there’s no way for you to confirm the property ownership, it’s a scam. A real landlord would want to meet you in person, show you the property and do a background check/credit check before renting to you.
DON’T DO IT IT’S A SCAM! I just got robbed of $1400 for deposit and first months rent on craigslist. The man said his daughter was sick and in the hospital and he was located in Pennsylvania. He wanted me to Walmart Walmart and money gram the first and deposit in two separate transactions. They picked up the money in 10 minutes of me sending the pick up info then promptly told me he’d only send the keys if I sent an additional $850. I told him I couldn’t do it and his price dropped to $200 and he wanted me to send pictures of purchased iTunes cards. He bothered me about it for two days . The second I told him I wanted a refund and didn’t want to rent his property he pretended I never told him and kept asking for $200 more . Long story short he already got the money and I can’t get it back. He had a thick Asian accent and made lots of spelling mistakes . In short I have no recourse and all I can hope for is that the police catch the woman who picked up the money and sue her in civil court. If it seems to good to be true or they want cash or a wire don’t do it you’ll be out the money like me. 🙁
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”.
Beware of advertisements posted on Apartments.com and ApartmentFinder.com. 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 Apartments.com and ApartmentFinder.com 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.
Yup just experienced this. House was on apartment.com 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 $2000 a month and they have never seen a neigerian couple there. When he called me he asked didn’t I love the house and I could western union him the deposit and rent. Needless to say I said no and drove home. But sadly people fall for this cause you want to believe you found the deal of s lifetime. And he gives you the lockbox code to get in the house.
Had this same pastor with lockbox scam try and get me 3 different times while I was replying to places I was interested in. It was always the same email I would get back.
Fallen victim to rental scammers in palm desert ca. Sheriffs are threatening to arrest me leaving me homeless on the the street as if im not the victim like I have no rights crying out for help as we speak dont know what to do
What happened in the end I’m going through same thing ?
Hey some guy has keys to a few properties and is wanting to rent one to me he claims his parents own them and he deals with them but I feel its a scam what to do it’s inn a gated community very nice area he lows the lock code to get in the gate he has keys and a lease I need advive
I am Joel. The apt i rent is owned by a corporation they are scaming renters.my neighbor apt was flooded bad toilet they tried to get him and his family to stay with friends or family until they fix everything. Instead of putting them up in another apt or motel.he didn’t let them get away with that after they fix everything they were billed for all the repairs and me i ask them to check for bugs they did and i got a the report nothing found in apt and they did a general spray i was billed they put they spray for bed bugs this is the only spray they don’t cover they look for many things to bill renters for what is the chance management is getting benefits when they convince renters its there obligation to pay for things the owners are responsible for
How should I go after a guy that scammed me out of 625$ the guy sounded of African descent but I wired the money walmart 2 walmart in New York! I have the info on the email that he was emailing me from! And the name of the individual that I wired the money too. But nothing is adding up? What should I do?
Hi, so I live in California and I was renting a room from a friend. But prior to that I was living in my trailer. My friend’s apartment complex didn’t have any room to park it. It is a small 14ft travel trailer. So I was looking to put it in a storage. Long story….next door to the complex was an empty house. One other neighbor was parking he’s rv there. He told me I could as well. A couple of weeks later. I went to go check on my trailer. And some lady was coming out of the empty house. Asked who’s trailers are these. I told her the situation and if the house would be up for rent? She said she would like to bad the last tenants left it pretty bad. She didn’t have the time to do it. I told her I could clean and paint and maybe we could work something out. She said that would be great. She’s going to go visit family up north. And would be gone for six months. I told her my credit wasn’t so great. She said she would have to run a credit check for my roommate and I. I said no problem. She came back that following week , but still hadn’t run our credit checks. I told her I could pay three months in advance, with proof of income and references. It took about another week or so. Not sure if she ran the reports. But we started talking about what she wanted done and how we could work it off our rent. It was a dream come true. Plus my friend and her husband were happy to have there home back. So we wrote out a rental agreement. We gave her $5300 and she wrote out a receipt. Like any other rental I’ve moved in to before. We did give her cash. She gave us the keys and she would check on us in a couple of weeks about the progress and any problems. We were so happy, we’ve been trying to get into a place now for awhile. I guess that’s why we were so desperate and willing. But while cleaning up and moving in. We called all the utility companies as anyone would. But the water still hasn’t got turned on. In our agreement water and trash were paid. When we called her to find out what was going on. Of course we could not get a hold of her. So we called the water Co. They said the owner has to turn it on. We asked if they could contact her. But nothing. We are going on 4 weeks no water, no answer, no money. We feel an empty pit in our stomachs. Cause we got scammed. But we have no we’re to go. Used up the last of our money to move. Who can we call…?? I’m scared I’m gonna be homeless. My friend can’t take me and my roommate and all of our things. Lord help us
I am a Realtor and have had people call me about a listing I legitimately have BUT they were enticed by a lower
rent listed on various websites and decided they liked that price better. Guess what. They were scammed. Not only of their precious money, but also their personal information, copy of driver’s license and dignity. One girl gave her savings of $1,000 to such a scammer. I now put a flyer showing the actual rental price INSIDE the front WINDOW so people who visit will see the CORRECT information. Call the local police department where the rental is located. They need to know this is going on and collect evidence for a future court date.
I was almost taken. I was looking for a rental in an area where rentals are scarce. The house was listed as “nice 4 bedroom” in xxxx city. As we emailed about this prpperty the person has told me that it would need some work prior to moving in and I could do it. He didnt have the time and his maintenence guy was busy at his other rental. We went to the house only after verifying the house was for rent and the owner’s name on the county website for house deeds and recent sales. Armed with that information, The guy introduced himself as different first name, same last name claiming to be a relative of the owner. The owner couldn’t show it as he moved out of town. The nice house with 4 bedrooms, actually had 3 bedrooms and the place was dirty, I mean dirty as a barn. The house needed burned down. The basement was filled with water. The place had garbage all over outside and inside. Bugs everywhere. This place should have been condemned. The person was asking a low price, 600 which upon seeing the house, it was far too much. “He was asking this price so that he could afford to “reimburse me” for my work completed. He had a capped amount that couldn’t be exceeded monthly or else we would have to eat the out of pocket cost until next the month. ”After all its a small price to pay to live in a nice house!.” The landlord’s relative stated. I guess he was partially correct with the above statement. I ran from this jerk and his nasty, dirty, run down house. We have found a newly remodeled place a few blocks away from this house 6 weeks later! Oh, the place is still empty a at this moment.
So my son was scammed by one of these scumy people. My son was moving out on his own with his roommates and the person he was renting from was my sons girlfriends good friends mom. Anyway, my son went to the property where the scummy woman was putting her items in boxes acting like she was packing, she claimed that her boyfriend owned the condo and gave her permission to rent the condo for him. THIS OWNER REALLY WAS HER BOYFRIEND. She ended up asking ME to write up the rental agreement because she didn’t have time to do it herself. I agreed, she signed the document and took the half of deposit. She returned 2 weeks later and gave my son the key to the condo, he went that night to check out the condo. When he went inside he noticed that all the furniture was still there and it actually looked like she unpacked the boxes she was previously packing! My son was very confused by this and when he told me about it I was too. But I told him maybe she is still moving and even though it was already the 1st I said maybe give her another day or two. Two days later my son went back to the condo and low and behold, his key no longer works in the door!!! He immediately calls her and she says to not worry she forgot that they were changing the locks so she will give him a new key. My son was just about to leave the complex when he noticed a lady in the window of the condo Nextdoor and he asks her about the door being locked, the lady told him the woman renting the unit had someone there just yesterday looking at the place, after my son had already gave his deposit and gotten his key. So, when my son came back and told me this I decided to find out who actually owns the condo, I went to the county clerks office and found out that the property was her boyfriends. I contacted her and told her to tell me the truth, I threatened her with the cops because I had a feeling this was bs. Sure enough she started to cry and asked me to not call the cops on her. I contacted her boyfriend and he told me he never gave her permission to rent his place, then proceeded to laugh at me saying that I should have known it was too good to be true! The f”Ing NERVE of this man! Seriously this man was in on it! I went to the police and gave them his name and hers. The problem was they couldn’t find her and they couldn’t find him because he never came back to the condo that entire week. So, i figured if they couldn’t catch these guys then I would have to scare crying scammer into giving back the money. I called her and told her that I had her boyfriends full name and that when I told her boyfriend I was going to have her arrested for fraud He said go ahead and that she deserved to go to jail. She starts freaking out and says if she just gives back the money then I shouldn’t call the cops. I Told her I was very angry about this, she has traumatized my son since this was the first time he was moving out and she scammed him, and how was I supposed to believe her after what she did!?. She tried a few times to get control of the convo, but I kept her in her place. I told her I would have to think about it I kept her in limbo for a bit. Thats when I had my sweet mother call her and tell her that she was going to go get the money from her and as long as she got the full amount back, then she could talk me out of calling the cops. (Of course I had my brother go too) but honestly my weightlifting 62 year old mother would have ripped that woman apart. In the end we got the money back. But, because of this it is really hard to know if a rental property is real or not. I mean do you have to go to the county clerks office for every listing? It’s not free either.
Oh and she got the last half of the deposit when she gave my son the keys.
If I paid for the rent in travelers checks and later it turned out to be a scam, would the traveler check company reimburse me?
I rented 2 rooms in my house to a nice couple, weird but nice. I was very up on the farm. Horses who play with there feeder. Barking guard dog, cats, etcetera. Its been 5 months. The gf only comes Sunday. Now, they have said they are moving in 6 months. He says horse plays with trough, dog barks, he cannot sleep. (that’s all he basically does). The agreement between us is not being kept.The farm is not what they expected. Its got dirty chores. She now says she is allergic to cats, but staying here till October…? She made a call in the living room this morning and used speaker. She was having a conversation to a renter of hers, not paying his rent…she’s a landlord?? I don’t trust them, as I did, and do expect the worse. I am disabled too. Oh, shit…
I have reason to suspect I’m renting a scam property. I found the listing on Zillow and contacted what I thought was a property management firm. I googled them and all seemed ok. I signed a lease and have been living in the property for 1 yr now. I was given a name and account number for depositing or sending rent to to the “owner” which I use checks for or money orders in case I need to stop payments. However after disputing repairs and asking for the “property manager” for the owners direct contact information I get the run around. I’mm afraid to sign another lease and refuse to send any money without speak to the property manager and verifying they own the property. Can anyone provide some insight ?
A couple things to add. I am a land lord in a small town. I checked with a service on how to background check. It is very easy, check jobs and case net/ court system. Most bad apples will show up pretty easy. Search everywhere the applicant has lived. You will be surprised how often they forget the places they’ve been evicted from, and all the states where the they have criminal records. “References” and “former land lords” are difficult to verify as real. Only used contact information from verifiable jobs, etc. which are published in electronic or paper form. The contact info. the applicant gives you means nothing.