Rental listing scams are a real issue, and sadly they work and continue to grow in popularity.
Generally, the scam works like this:
The scammer uses pictures of a property they don’t own and market it on various rental listing sites.
They set the rent at a rate that they know will generate a lot of interest.
There’s no time to view the property, either the tenant pays a deposit, and potentially the first month's rent, or they lose the property.
The property is often incredible, in a great location, and an absolute steal - an opportunity too good to pass up. However, in these scenarios, they’re also not real. Once the “deposit” has been transferred the scammer disappears.
Red flags: How to identify a scam property?
They ask for money before you see the property
If you haven’t seen the property you don’t know if it’s real, you don’t know if it’s in the same state as the pictures, and you can’t confirm that the person you’re in contact with actually owns the property. If they ask for money or try to pressure you into paying a deposit or first month's rent before you see the property this is likely a scam.
Too good to be true
Does the listing seem too good to be true? For example, does it have a list of exciting features? Is the rent a bit lower than realistic in that area for a property like this? Ask yourself, “Is this realistic?” If the answer is anything other than a definitive yes, then a healthy dose of skepticism is required.
The scammer will likely then threaten to give the property to someone else to try and incite you into paying a deposit or holding fee.
Overly pushy owners
If their first response to your inquiry isn’t a time and date when you can come view the property then it very well could be a scam. If instead, the property owner starts pressuring you to move quickly, potentially threatening that you’ll lose the property unless you put down money, this is a clear red flag. They may even come up with a convincing story - such as they’re moving out of town and need to rent their property fast, or that there are a lot of other interested parties. In this scenario, unless you can organize a viewing it's best to walk away.
They refuse to meet you in person
These rental scams can be very convincing. We recently talked with a tenant who actually went to view a property, using a keycode to get access and showing themselves around. And this is important, they viewed the property unaccompanied. They liked what they saw, signed a lease, sent the deposit, and then the scammer disappeared.
One way for the scammer to make this work is to essentially show you around an Airbnb with self-check-in. They may even have rented it out for themselves for the day. As they're unlikely to want to show their face, however, they won't be able to make it to the viewing, "but please, let yourselves in".
If you suspect it's a scam and they refuse to meet with you it's best to err on the side of caution.
Often scammers operate from other countries. They may not know the specifics about renting in a particular area, or their English language and grammar skills might not be the best. This is another red flag.
What to do if you think it's a scam?
Research the owner or property management company
These scams are often hard to spot. They make you want something, add a time limit, and will go the extra mile when necessary to convince you.
If you spot any of the red flags listed above, or something just doesn't feel right, then one thing you can do is research the property owner or property management company first. You may well be able to locate the real owner of the property. Get a phone number and give them a call. If it's not the same person who picks up, well, it's a scam.
Never pay anything before you or someone you trust has seen the property in real life and met the landlord or property manager
On rare occasions, it may not be possible to view a property before renting it, for example, if you're moving to a new city. In which case, try and get someone you know to check it out for you. You can always book an Airbnb for the first month of your stay in the town instead of moving straight into a residential rental. Don't feel pressured.
If it doesn't smell right, you can't meet with someone in person (trust us, any half-decent landlord will want to meet you first), the property owner is overly pushy, or they want you to pay, either a deposit, a holding fee, or the first month’s rent before you’ve seen the property and signed a quality lease, then walk away.
Always pay through Landlord Studio
Our final tip is to operate your payments through a trusted platform like Landlord Studio. Landlord Studio’s security team does extra due diligence for any property owner or manager using our payments platform including an identity verification check. If your landlord asks you to pay via Landlord Studio then you can have faith that they really do own the property.
Scammers often ask for wire transfers as deposits or rent payments as they are irreversible. You should never pay using a wire transfer and always have confidence before sending money.
Even with this in mind though, always ensure you have seen the property yourself and signed a lease before sending any money over.
If you believe there is a fraudulent (scam) listing on Landlord Studio, please reach out to email@example.com with the property address and URL.