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When you’re looking for an apartment or vacation rental, you’re probably looking at price, location and amenities. Scammers know that, so they make up fake rental listings they know will grab your attention — and money — before you discover there isn’t a place waiting for you. Before you make a move, learn how to spot and avoid fake ads and protect your money.

How Rental Scam Ads Work

Scammers take over legitimate rental listings and make them their own. Scammers copy the pictures and descriptions of online rental listings, replace the agent’s contact information with their own, and post the phony ads on a new site. If you call or email about the rental you’ll reach a scammer, who may take your money for an application fee, deposit, first month’s rent, or vacation rental charge. Then, the scammer disappears, and you’re left with no place to move in to.

What to do: Search online for the rental location’s address, together with the name of the property owner or rental company. If other ads come up for the same address, but with a different owner or rental company name, that’s a sign of a scam. Look for the name of the rental company and search the rental company’s website yourself to see if the property is listed there too. If it isn’t, the ad you found may be a scam.

Scammers make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist. The fake ads might offer surprisingly low rent or amazing amenities. When you ask to see the rental, the fake owner might claim to be out of the country, or give another excuse for not showing the property, and may rush you into a quick decision. Then the fake owner might tell you to send money by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency to pay your application fee, deposit, or first month’s rent. The fake owner promises to get you the keys right away. Except, after you pay, the person you’ve been dealing with will disappear with your money.

What to do: Don’t send payment for a property you’ve never seen, or to a person you’ve never met in person. If you send money by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency, it’s like sending cash. Once it’s gone, you probably can’t get it back. If you can’t see the apartment or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.

Evaluate Rental Listings

  • Search online for the name of the property owner or rental company with the words “complaint,” “review,” or “scam.” See what other people say about their experiences.
  • Consider the price of the rental. If the rent is much lower than most rents in the area, it could be a sign of a scam. And if anyone pressures you to make a decision quickly to get a great deal, walk away.
  • Look at the property before you sign or pay. Visit the property in person or watch a video or virtual tour. If you go in person, ask the rental agent for a business card issued by the company that owns or manages the property, and check the agent’s ID to be sure it matches the records. Dealing with a private landlord? Search city or county tax assessment websites to learn who owns a property, then check the landlord’s ID to be sure it matches the records. If you can’t get to the property in person, ask someone you trust to go and make sure it’s for rent, and that it matches what was advertised.

Protect Your Personal Information and Money

  • Never give personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you and claims to be working with the owner or rental company. Instead, use the contact information you have and contact the owner or company.
  • Never pay with cash, wire transfers, cards, or cryptocurrency. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Wiring money, sending gift cards, or paying by cryptocurrency is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you probably can’t get it back. Anyone who demands that you pay those ways is a scammer.

Report Problems

If you notice a rental listing scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and the website where the ad was posted. And report it to