If a Zillow or Craigslist apartment listing sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Rental scams are becoming increasingly common as bad actors take advantage of people desperate to find an affordable place to live.
A man in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was indicted in September for allegedly conning 15 people out of $22,050 in bogus rental deposits. Most fraud victims lived in Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities, and were in search of affordable housing.
Nationwide, 11,578 people reported losing more than $350 million due to rental scams in 2021, according to the FBI. That’s a 64% increase from the previous year.
Here’s how to spot a scam and keep yourself safe.
How Do Rental Scams Work?
Scammers will often take real rental listings of properties for sale or rent and repost them at rock bottom prices.
Hijacked property listings use a real address but replace the contact information with the scammer’s email and phone number.
Other fraudsters use the property owner or broker’s real name to create a fake email to make the con more convincing.
Scammers pressure potential applicants to send money over right away, usually as a deposit or application fee, to hold the property.
But when it’s time to schedule a walk-through or pick up the keys, the supposed “landlord” is nowhere to be found.
5 Ways to Avoid Rental Scams
Our general advice: If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you transfer money, keep looking.
Here are five ways to safeguard yourself against rental scams.
1. Analyze the Ad
If the price for that spacious downtown loft seems too good to be true, it might be.
Scammers often post fabulous looking rentals at rock bottom prices to get as many applicants as possible.
Check out the spelling and grammar of the ad. Listings with grammatical errors or strange verbiage are often tell-tale signs of fraudulent postings.
2. Dig Into the Details
First things first: Google the address to make…