The end of summer is a popular time for home rentals, as families head out on one last vacation and students secure their housing for the coming year. Unfortunately, online rental scams continue to increase, targeting both short- and long-term renters. Not all deceptions are easy to catch, but being aware of scammers’ favorite frauds is an important place to start. Continue reading for some home rental red flags to watch out for, along with a few tips on how to stay safe when renting.
Real Listing, Fake Realtor
Scammers may copy information from real home rental listings, then replicate it on a different platform. This strategy makes rental posts look very believable to potential renters—and once they make a deposit, the ad and the realtor mysteriously disappear. In order to avoid becoming a victim of this kind of scam, verify the realtor’s contact information online. It’s also important to not conduct all communication solely using one platform. Ask for an outside phone number or email address, and check those contact details online to see if they belong to a legitimate real estate business. If the realtor is pushy, or refuses to change platforms, it may be a scam.
Instead of repurposing a real home rental ad, scammers may simply invent a property using stock photos and fake housing details. Look out for vague property descriptions and be especially wary if the person you contact can’t answer detailed questions about the home for rent. If you’re familiar with the area, test their knowledge of the property’s surroundings—you may catch a scammer red-handed as they invent information about the local neighborhood which you know to be false. If after the initial messages you don’t see any red flags, but something still doesn’t feel quite right, listen to your gut. You don’t want to arrive to your intended rental and discover it doesn’t exist.
Scammers know that tenants or short-term renters may wish to view a property before agreeing to the rental, so a common lie is to claim they are not in town. A fake landlord may pretend to be deployed with the military in another country, or say they are caring for a sick relative in another state. Be on the lookout for any statement that appears intended to pull at a potential renter’s heartstrings. Even if you are also not in the local area, it’s still a good idea to ask for a tour, just to see how the realtor or landlord replies. If they are not amenable to a tour, or send video footage that could have easily been taken from a different rental website, it may be best to find another home rental option.
Bait and Switch
One scam that has affected a number of short-term vacation renters is known as the bait and switch scam. Fraudsters will use a reputable platform like AirBnB to rent a property which looks great—but when travelers arrive, they receive a message saying there’s a last-minute issue with the property, such as a burst pipe. The landlord will offer a different property instead, which is far less nice than what was advertised. Some travelers don’t even realize it’s a scam, so may be reluctant to pursue legal action. Staying at a hotel or guesthouse is one way to avoid this particular type of fraud, but if you’re a fan of home-sharing platforms, you can also protect yourself by only choosing properties with a large amount of outstanding reviews from independent users.
Money in Advance
One of the most straightforward red flags for a home rental scam is being asked to pay money in advance. As obvious as it may sounds, scammers often get away with it simply because the offer is an extremely good deal. Potential renters get anxious, fearing the house will be rented by someone else, and rush into an agreement after just a few messaging; sending hundreds or even thousands of dollars as a deposit. The best way to avoid this scam is to be suspicious of any home rental offer that looks too good to be true. Unfortunately, it usually is.
Zero Background Checks
When it comes to longer-term rentals, your future landlord will want a little information about you, too. If you come across a home rental listing that doesn’t require a background check, this could be a sign of a scam. At the very lease, it indicates that you will be dealing with someone who doesn’t care about performing their due diligence—not a great start to a housing contract. Always opt for landlords that check tenants’ background information; especially if you are looking for a shared unit or will be living in a larger complex with multiple units sharing the same building.