Rental Red Flags that Signal You’re About to Get Scammed

published Oct 19, 2017
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(Image credit: Alexandre Zveiger)

You know the saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”? Well, that definitely applies to apartment hunting. If you see a listing for a beautiful, spacious apartment that’s well below the median rent for the neighborhood it’s in, for example, there’s gotta be a catch. Like, you know, it might not even exist (!).

To help keep renters safe from scams, RentHop shared some of the red flags—big and small—to look out for while you’re searching for your next new place. The biggest thing to watch out for? If your contact for the listing mentions anything about Western Union or Money Gram or any sort of escrow service—it’s potentially a scam. And second, if they ask you to wire money to them before you even see the apartment? Definitely don’t send them anything, and move on to the next (hopefully legitimate) listing. Even if you think you’re on a reputable listing site, RentHop says to stay suspicious.

The third biggest red flag is, again, a price that seems to good to be true. According to RentHop, nearly 75 percent of apartments will be within 15 percent of the median, so if an apartment is listed for below what two-thirds of other similar apartments in the area go for, it’s 43 percent likely that it’s actually a scam. And if it’s below half of the apartments in the area, that likelihood jumps up to 79 percent.

If an ultra-low-priced apartment isn’t just an outright scam, it could be mislabeled (for example, what you think is a 1-bedroom apartment might actually just be a room in a shared apartment), an illegal apartment that shouldn’t be rented in the first place, or it involves some sort of special arrangement (you know, like when you see those viral Craigslist posts that advertise a free room in exchange for being someone’s personal assistant or romantic partner). According to RentHop, there’s only 2 or 3 legitimate apartments for every 1,000 listings that seem too good to be true price-wise.

But those are just the main red flags—there are also a lot of little things to keep watch for, like suspicious email addresses. Other things to avoid: fake—but totally realistic-looking—documentation, as well as the owner sharing a long and emotional story about their lives in the process or offering lease terms that seem way too flexible. You can see the full list of rental scam red flags here.

Did you know: Emails from the domain are 19 times more likely to be a scam than those from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo? And non-US Yahoo email address domains are almost always scams, too.