5 Ways to Spot a Housing Scam


One unique aspect of the United States is its vast size and varying geographical regions. No matter the climate and pace of life one desires, they can find it in this country.

However, certain locales tend to fit people’s criteria more than others. The areas people flock to in the U.S., for the most part, are large urban hubs with booming economies.

Because there’s only so much housing to accommodate hundreds that arrive each day, it can be competitive finding a decent, affordable place to live.

The challenge leaves some people vulnerable to falling for a scam.

To ensure that’s not you, keep these five ways to spot a housing scam top of mind.

Rent Is Below Market Rate

Trying to find a place you can call home in a popular city forces us to sacrifice some of our budget, or at least that’s what we come to expect after looking at one expensive listing after another. So, when we come across an ad for a cute place for a very fair price, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with jubilation and start to imagine our new life in the space. This is exactly what scammers are hoping for as they scrape rental ad postings from other sites and create ads with lower rent amounts.

Legitimate rooms below market rate do come available on sites like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, but as you can imagine, they are uber popular and difficult to snag. These ads are easy to spot as organic, however, as they usually have personal photos of the space and backgrounds about each of the roommates.

They Want You to Wire Money

No matter if you’re paying for a corn dog or a place to live, if it requires wiring money, especially to a stranger, then you should be skeptical of the transaction. Once you wire a payment, you can’t get it back. There’s also little if any information to track the receiver of the funds. It’s a scammer’s ideal payment method, and has been for some time.

Even if you’ve seen an apartment and feel good about renting it otherwise, once a wire payment is requested, this is your red flag. Don’t ignore it.

You Can’t Verify Ownership

Very few renters ask to see proof of ownership before applying for a place, even though the documents they must fill require their sensitive personal information. More importantly, prospective renters don’t usually check for ownership either.

Any valid landlord will be able to prove they own the residence through a bill or statement. However, good con artists can falsify documents to look authorized. For this reason, it’s wise to check public ownership records at the county tax assessor’s office in your area.

Additionally, taking this safeguard could help prevent the real owner from getting taken advantage of. Just because you’re living in a place and paying rent doesn’t mean you’re renting the place from the real owner.

Payment Is Requested Before Agreement

Is a landlord trying to move too quickly? When a killer deal appears to be had, some renters jump in head-first without thinking about the terms of the agreement. An email exchange might say you have the place to rent for a year for a specified monthly price, but that doesn’t mean anything in a court of law. Whether you’re using a company like Freedom Debt Relief to settle debt or securing a place to live, never send payment before you’re provided any services. In a rental situation, this means having formal discussions about renting and signing a lease. If the arrangement feels too casual or too focused on getting that initial payment, walk away.

Housing Contact Can’t Meet in Person

We’re all busy these days, but we make time for the things that matter to us. An owner that can’t meet to show the property should make you wonder whether they’re for real. Many landlords go with the “out of the country” story to gain a renter’s trust, telling them that their lawyer or manager is taking care of the process. While it’s perfectly feasible for a landlord to live elsewhere, make sure the person showing you the place has valid ties and/or accreditations to be showing you the property. Some ploys even include a set of keys and a self-showing to assuage hesitant renters to submit payment.

Scams are rampant these days, and con artists have become more effective at preying on vulnerable targets. The best thing you can do to protect yourself against a scam is to trust your gut instinct. Then keep these signs of a housing scam in mind. If you’re still unsure about the validity of a rental situation, you can reverse image search the apartment photos to see if it’s listed elsewhere online. Additionally, paying any rent or security deposit with a credit card gives you the best purchase protection should things turn sour.