Rental Scams, Part II: Fake “For Rent” Online Ads

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Rental Scams, Part II: Fake “For Rent” Online Ads

Oh My Apartment · Oct 27, 2008

Ever seen a listing for a rental that just seems too good to be true? Perfect location, ideal building — and the price is half what you would expect. There are plenty of listings like that on Craigslist and other sites. But if you dig a little deeper, those deals really are too good to be true.

Some of these rental ads are simple scams. The scammer posts a listing for a real property and waits for responses. When potential renters contact the ‘landlord,’ he or she is usually out of town or otherwise available — but the renter is welcome to walk around the outside of the property.

The ‘landlord’ asks for a deposit and the first month’s rent to be wired to an account that is almost always international (Nigeria is an especially common location). After the victim does just that, the scammer disappears with the money.

These ads look fairly realistic because scammers take real ads and change just a few details. Valerie Haboush has a rental in North Plainfield, New Jersey, which she listed on Craigslist. She was surprised to get phone calls after her ad ended — asking about a potential scam.

She found that a new ad was up for her rental, using the same text and photos she had used in her own ad, but with a much lower price and new contact information. Worse, the Nigerian-based scammer running the ad had created an email account in Valerie’s name and was using it to communicate with prospective tenants.

Valerie doesn’t think that any victims actually got to the point where they sent money to the scammers, because of the number of concerned renters who called her directly about the property.

There are certain warning signs you should look for when considering online rental ads.

  • If the price really does seem absurdly low for an area, try to find out why.
  • A scammer is more likely to say that they just have to get the place rented fast than mention actual problems with a property.
  • Most landlords are also willing to show you a place in person — in fact, they prefer it because it gives them an opportunity to check out potential renters before handing over the keys.
  • You should consider a refusal to meet with you a red flag.
  • Lastly, avoid handing over any money — even a check — until you actually have the keys in your hand.

Do you unfortunately have experience with rental ad scams? Tell us your story below.

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