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What should I know about rental scams?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Avoiding rental scams Resources

Avoiding rental scams

What should I know? +

Contents


What is a rental scam?

If you are in the market for a rental property, be aware that not every rental listing is legitimate. 

 

There are two general types of rental listing scams. Scammers may either:

  • Try to rent a property that they do not own or have authority to rent. 

    • The scammers might post a copy of a legitimate rental ad but change the contact information. This way, you reach the scammer instead of the real property owner. 

    • With many properties using self-guided tours and lock boxes (such as Rently), you may even be able to view the property without ever talking to the legitimate owner. Scammers may even give you a tour of the property themselves. 

    • The scammers may go as far as having you sign a lease and making payments for the property.

  • Make a listing for a property that does not exist. A scammer might make up a listing for a property with a low price and great amenities, but there is no such property. The goal with this scam is to get you to give them money to hold the property before you realize it does not exist. 

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What are my rights if I am scammed?

These scams are illegal. If you are the target of a scam, you have the right to:

  • Contact law enforcement,

  • File a complaint with the FTC, and/or

  • File a lawsuit against the scammer.

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What are my responsibilities when renting a property?

Rental scams are illegal. You are not to blame for the actions of a scammer. To best protect yourself from scams, you should carefully vet every rental listing and read and understand every document you sign. If you are signing a lease:

  • Ask for help from a trusted financial counselor or lawyer if you do not understand the terms.

  • If a document has blank spaces, do not sign it.

  • If the document has errors or false statements, do not sign it.

  • Get every promise in writing. 

  • Keep a copy of any document you sign. Take clear, complete pictures of each page with your phone if you don’t have access to a copier.

  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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What can I do? +

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How can I avoid a rental scam?

Fake rental listings may look exactly like a legitimate rental listing. While it may be hard to avoid scams in some situations, there are signs to watch out for and steps to take to protect yourself.

  • Search the internet for the property address. Check for multiple listings for the same property. If you find the property listed at a different price or with different contact information, it is probably a scam.

  • Be suspicious if:

    • The rent seems low for the area,

    • There is no address on the listing,

    • The deal seems too good to be true,

    • You are being rushed to pay a deposit or money to hold the property,

    • You cannot talk to the landlord or the landlord says they live out of state so cannot show you the property.

  • Do not wire money, pay via bitcoin, cash, or through gift cards. No legitimate landlord will insist that you pay with non-refundable or untraceable methods like wire transfers, cash, etc. They may also ask for your credit card information before allowing you to see the property. If this happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation.

  • Do an internet search for the landlord or property manager. Read online reviews of their properties and check public records. Ask them questions about their business and verify anything they tell you. 

  • If you can’t go to see the property in person, use Google Maps to make sure the pictures in the online listing match the property at that location. 

  • Search public tax records online to look up the owner of the property. Make sure the agent knows the owner’s name and that you can contact that person if you have suspicions about the agent. 

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What can I do if I am the target of a rental scam?

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, you can:

  • Contact your local law enforcement.

  • Report the scam to the FTC. The FTC does not take action for individuals, but will use your report to share to address patterns of scams. After you file your report, the FTC will give you steps that you can take to try to get your money back or stop a charge. You can file a complaint:

  • File a lawsuit against the scammer. Be aware that it may be difficult to locate or collect a judgement from a scammer.  You should talk to an attorney about your rights.

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Resources

Last Review and Update: Feb 01, 2021