How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Craigslists Home Rental Scams

As college students return to school and the inevitable plans for relocation start to take shape, hundreds of people will search Craigslist to find the perfect apartment. While this can be a liberating and highly exciting time for the renter, it is important to you do everything possible to avoid becoming a victim of rental fraud.   The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently published a notice informing potential renters about the recent high frequency of searches on Craigslist that resulted in renters getting scammed out of their money.  MakeSenseofCents.com also published an interesting article about this subject as well.

We undertook our own search and found both great homes and apartments that were available for rent.  Unfortunately, we also found great “looking” apartments that had the tell-tell signs of being a rental scam.  While it is critical that you do everything possible to recoup your money if you’ve been victimized, it is more important to know what to look for to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.  

Craigslist has become one of the most important “first-look” platforms to use to improve your chances of getting into an apartment with desired features and at a desire price.  With the increasing usage of this platform comes an increase in people using it to attempt to steal money from you directly.  Diligence is an imperative, therefore we have assembled six specific things that you can do to avoid becoming the next victim of a rental scam.

Scammers use a variety of tactics to get people’s money, according to the National Rental Home Council (NRHC).  Some of these tactics are obvious, but most are covert and nefarious.  Tactics include hijacking a real rental listing by changing the email address or other contact information and then placing the altered ad on another site.  When a renter negotiates an agreement, they make a payment to the fraudulent account and aren’t able to move into the apartment because they made a deposit to a fraudster.

Another tactic includes gaining access to keys in door lock boxes, make copies of these keys, and pose as legitimate rental agents.  Finally, scammers will lease someone else’s property that is already leased and collect an application fee, security deposit, and even the first month’s rent.

Here are 6 tips that you can use to help you avoid becoming a victim of rental scams:

  1. Take the next step and do an online search of the rental company.   This can be done quite simply by typing in the name of the company and adding words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.”  Read as many of the reviews and possible and if they are bad or non-existent, it may be wise to look somewhere else.  
  2. Check for duplicate listings.  Legitimate rental companies will have rental home listings in several places, including their website.  Therefore, check other sites like Trulia, Zillow and Craigslist to increase the chances that the listing is legitimate. 
  3. Compare prices. Is there a significant difference in the rent price for comparable listings? This could indicate that the rental is a scam because the listing is not sensitive to market pricing.
  4. Ask If you can see the apartment.  Even if you get a virtual tour, a fraudulent renter will be unable to provide the virtual tour you need. Otherwise, ask for a photo ID badges which is issued by the company that owns or manages the property.
  5. Use only a legit rental website. If you decide to apply for a unit, ask to use the rental company, licensed real estate professional or listings website.  If you are informed that this is improbable, it is likely a scam.  
  6. Never send cash, wire transfers or gift cards. If a rental company requires that you use either of these methods of payment to pay the deposit or first month’s rent, it is likely a scam.  

Following these approaches will increase your chances of avoiding rental scams and improving your chances of getting an apartment or home that you desire.  It is critical that you remain diligent and look out for warning signs.