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Apartment Rental Scams: Do You Know How to Spot Them?

Here’s a situation you might run into while you’re looking for a new apartment. There’s a great listing available now, and it has professional pictures — but the owner can’t meet in person. Instead, they’re asking that the security deposit and first month’s rent is wired to them.

There’s a big, red flag in that situation, did you catch it? If the property owner doesn’t want to meet you in person, there's a really good chance it’s a scam. Let’s say, for learning sake, that you went through with it and wired them the money. Most of the time, once you realized it was a scam, the “owner” will be long gone with your money. But sometimes, you might even receive keys to the place in the mail, but when you get there, the real owner or even the police are there asking you to leave.

The last thing you want when you’re looking for a new place is to fall for a scam. When you’re excited, or you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to look past something that might seem a little too good to be true. However, if you know the key signs of apartment rental scams, you’ll be able to hunt down your new home confidently.

Tips to Avoid Apartment Rental Scams

Before you start searching for an apartment online, make sure you read these tips to safely and easily navigate listings you find online.

1. Always meet in person. This is the most important thing you can do. Just by making sure you’re going through the rental process in person, you’ll avoid the wide majority of apartment rental scams. Don’t submit any personal, financial, or private information, including background or credit checks until you meet the landlord in person either. This way you’ll be able to ensure you know whom you’re giving it to and that they’re only going to use it for the leasing process.

2. Never wire money. If someone is asking you to send them funds through Western Union, MoneyGram, or any other wire service — especially overseas — they’re probably a scammer. Make sure you follow tip one and complete any deals locally.

3. Always see the property first. Driving by the outside of the property or building isn’t going to cut it. Be wary of owners that won’t let you see the property you want to rent. Bring a friend with you and make sure that the interior matches the listing. If someone is offering to send you the keys after you pay the deposit, don’t fall for it. It’s a scam. If you can’t be there to see the property, consider working with a broker or an agent who can visit it for you, and share photos or videos of the property.

4. Stalk the owner online. We all do it. Don’t be hesitant to do it with property owners too before you share and private information. Checking out their social media can help you feel more confident that they’re a “real” person, and you can also look up their company information to get the bigger picture. On top of that, if their contact info looks fishy, for example, they have a weird, jumbled email, it could be a scam. If you’re working with someone who works for a building or property management company, their email address should reflect that.

5. Watch for listings that advertise “no fee.”In bigger rental markets like New York City, brokers will often include a fee on apartments they’re selling. It’s common to see listings online that promise “no fee!” but when you go to see the property, it’s suddenly unavailable. The broker might then suggest a better apartment nearby, but this one does have a fee.

6. Avoid listings with MLS watermarks. The photos might look great, but if they’re watermarked, they’re likely stolen and being used to create a fake listing.

7. Avoid vague or awkward listings. Take a look at a listing of a popular building in your area. It probably has a lot of detail about what they have available. If you run into a listing that seems to be missing some key information, or just lacking in detail, avoid it. Some scams won’t provide the actual address of the property, because it just doesn’t exist. It’s okay to assume that listings and email responses with a lot of grammar or spelling errors are scams, too.

8. Don’t be enticed by extremely low rent. If it seems too good to be true, assume that it is. You’re not going to find a luxury apartment for hundreds less than the average listing. You can still focus on finding a great deal, but make sure you don’t let these cheap prices lead you down the wrong path.

9. Don’t trust owners that name-drop apartment sites. While you’re searching online, you should also keep in mind that these listing sites are neutral parties, meaning they can’t guarantee you’ll get your money back, they won’t ask for money from you, and they won’t participate in lease transactions or the transfer of funds. So, if a property owner is claiming that they have some sort of affiliation with the site you’re searching on, you should steer clear.

What Should You Do if You See a Scam?

Make sure to eport it. When you’re looking for apartments, most sites will have some way to flag or report a scam to their team. If not, you can reach out to their customer service team to ensure that the listing is taken down. You can report the details to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the Federal Trade Commission. You’ll also want to notify the local police department.

Working With a Trusted Expert Can Ease the Stress of Finding an Apartment

No matter where you're looking for an apartment, you need to be on your toes when you’re searching online. The majority of listings are going to be the real thing, but you still need to pay attention to ensure you don’t become a victim to a scam. But managing that, along with everything else that comes with moving, can be exhausting.

At Dwellworks Direct, we get it, and that’s why we’re here to help. Our local experts can help you find the perfect place to live, and even help you find some deals along the way. We work with property managers all over the U.S. to find verified properties, and we live in the areas we work in, so we’ll be able to help you navigate the local rental market with ease. Apartment hunting should be fun, so leave the hard work to us.

Check out our services here to find out how we can help you find your new home.