Internet-based real estate rental scam stories are shared in the real estate community every day. REALTORS® are often contacted by clients who have been previously victimized to help them move on from the fraud and find a legitimate home.

What are a few of the “red flags” these clients say they should have spotted or at least questioned? Here are a few:

  1. The rental price of the home being advertised was below market price. Scam artists use the low price to lure innocent buyers/renters into their cons. 

    Advice: If the rental price seems too good to be true, it probably is!

  2. The ad for the rental property looked legitimate. Property photos and listing information from the Internet can be easily copied and crafted into fraudulent listings by con artists today. They will often steal this data from current “for sale” listings, crop out watermarks, and create new listings with their own contact information. They then boldly list these properties for rent on various rental sites and/or those with marketplaces to find potential victims.

    Advice: Before contacting anyone regarding a rental property being advertised by a non-REALTOR®, perform a Google search for it. Does it come up as a match on other websites too? If so, do any of these listings show the property as “for sale”? Is the property currently listed by a REALTOR®? If “yes”, it’s worth your time to contact that REALTOR® for more information about the listing. They may be able to confirm for you that the property is not available for rent/lease.

  3. The person in charge of renting the property was not able to show it. This can be for a myriad of potential reasons (i.e. the property was “currently occupied”, the rental agent was out of town or had some extenuating circumstance that prevented her/him from showing the property). The con artist may even suggest that the potential renter visit the home, walk around the outside of it, and look in the windows (especially if they know the property is vacant).

    Advice: Remember today’s con artists do their best work from the comfort of their easy chairs and computers.

  4. “Wire the funds (rent and security deposit) and I’ll mail you the keys”. Con artists may have you sign a legitimate-looking rental agreement and try to entice you to act quickly and wire funds to them in exchange for the property keys.

    Advice: Con artists may present one or more reasons that it is urgent for you to wire the funds to them. Don’t do it.

  5. No Credit Necessary? If the rental agent is not concerned about your credit or verifying your current income, your employment, your ability to make your monthly rent — all things they typically would be concerned with), this should raise a red flag for you.

    Advice: Verify the legitimacy of the rental agent representing the property. Ask for their credentials and/or authorization to rent/lease the property to you.

If you find a rental listing you suspect of being used in a scam, use the tools offered by the website the listing is advertised on to report or flag the listing.

If you suspect or become a victim of a real estate rental scam, please report this incident to your local law enforcement. You should also contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

Additionally, whenever possible, when looking for a home, work with a REALTOR®.