Rental Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

One important thing to keep in mind while you’re scouring the internet for your next home is to always stay diligent and cautious, or you might fall victim to a rental scam. Here's our full guide on how to spot and avoid rental scams.

Rental Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them
Photo by Karolina Grabowska 

Nowadays you can search for anything over the internet. Whether you’re looking to buy a new phone, learn a language, have a question about a very specific niche cuisine, or even just want to look at funny videos, the internet is the place to be – so it comes as no surprise that, more often than not, the internet is the first stop individuals looking to rent a new place make in their rental journey.

Finding accommodation online is no easy feat. There are many platforms through which you can find accommodation that fits your needs and your budget, but one important thing to keep in mind while you’re scouring the internet for your next home is to always stay diligent and cautious, or you might fall victim to a rental scam.

What is a Rental Scam?

Rental scams happen when a property owner or a potential tenant misrepresent themselves or their resources. One common scam is a fake ad for a property that doesn’t exist or isn’t owned by the poster, where the fake landlord attempts to convince a renter to sign a lease and send money.

Scammers use a variety of techniques and tactics to get people to trust them and send them money. Some may hijack photos from a listing in another website or another location, while others hack real listings to change the contact information on the ad. For all of them, the goal is to pressure the renter into paying money for the property, in the form of application fees, deposits, or even the first month’s rent.

Common Rental Scams

Phantom rentals

A listing for a place that does not exist. This type of scam is typically very easy to detect, as there are no photos or videos of the place advertised, just some text written online.

Hijacked rentals

A listing for a place that exists elsewhere or is not owned by the person who posted the ad. Although the place itself is real, the contact information is not of the real landlord. The scammer posting this ad may have hijacked the photos from popular websites used to find accommodation, such as or Airbnb.

Bait-and-switch or missing amenities

The landlord tries to get the tenant to sign a lease for a property different than the one advertised. In this case, the ad could be for a fully furnished apartment while the real place is unfurnished, or it’s in worse shape than shown in photos. This type of scam may also involve the landlord trying to pressure a renter to sign for a different unit entirely.

Already rented

A listing whose landlord or rental agent collects application fees or deposits for a place that’s already rented.

Identity theft

A listing whose owner tries to get personal or information about prospective renters, such as social security numbers, banking information or insurance numbers. This listing may be phantom or hijacked, and the purpose isn’t to get the renter to send money but rather gain access to their confidential data for theft or fraud.

An individual is writing in a notebook, placed on top of multiple forms
Photo by Leeloo Thefirst

What are the Signs of a Rental Scam?

The following are signs that a rental listing may be a scam. Not every ad that presents with one of these is a scam, but we recommend that you always stay vigilant.

The advertised price of the property is too low compared to similar units.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re unsure of the average price of a similar property, you can always check other listings, ask friends who may have lived in the area, or ask a rental agent.

The rental pictures look too good (or too edited) to be true.

Rental listings whose photos seem like they’re out of a magazine can be exactly that. Some scammers even use hyper-realistic mockups of apartments as photos for their ads.

The listing has no photos, and the landlord is unable to provide any.

A landlord should be able to provide photos or videos of their property upon request. If they pressure you to go see it live rather than wait for photos, this may be a sign of a rental scam.

The listing has too many grammar and spelling errors, or misuses capital letters.

If the wording or spacing seems incoherent, it can be an indicator that someone copied the text from somewhere else then edited parts of it. The use of exaggerated description words such as “marvelous”, “astonishing”, or “flawless” can also be a sign of a scam.

You can’t reach the apartment’s owner and are forced to deal with the agent, who tells you the owner is unreachable, out of the country, or too busy to handle the rental.

It’s possible that the person “handling the apartment” doesn’t even have access to it. They simply hijacked the ad from another website and added their own contact information. According to a 2016 study, the “middleman scam” is one of the most common rental scams. Through the study, researchers were able to discover over 29 thousand scam listings in twenty cities within a mere 141 days. We recommend that you always stay away from middleman schemes and only interact with owners directly.

The property looks different from the photos in the listing or is a completely different unit.

Perhaps the ad mentioned amenities that are missing from the actual property, or was listed in a nearby yet different location. In this case, the landlord may be trying to reel you in with a good-looking apartment then hope you’ll agree to rent the place in spite of the inconsistencies.

The landlord’s online profile was very recently created, has no data about them, or seems suspicious.

Always check the listing’s owner’s profile on any website you use to find accommodation. The more data they have on their profile, the better. Photos, details about them such as age and occupation, and possible verification via ID are all things to look for.

The landlord refuses to show you the property or charges you a fee to see it.

A landlord that asks for money upfront is very likely attempting to take your money and disappear. A request to wire or transfer money is a major red flag of rental scams. Often, scammers will pretend that they are out of the country and can’t access the property right now, with a promise to send you a set of keys once you’ve made your payment.

The landlord requires you to sign a lease before seeing the property.

A legitimate landlord will be welcoming when you want to see the place before renting it. If they’re pressing you to sign a lease without viewing the place, this might be because the rental property doesn’t exist, isn’t for rent, or they don’t have authority to rent it.

You feel pressured to lease right away. The landlord may urge you to rent quickly before someone else snatches the place.

High-pressure sales tactics are frequently used by scammers to increase the stakes and push the tenant to sign a lease or pay a deposit quickly. If you’re feeling rushed to rent, this might be because the landlord is worried that you’ll start noticing the red flags in their rental process.

The landlord seems in an extreme hurry to rent the property, forgoing important steps such as reviewing your rental file or doing a credit check.

Although some rental places may not require a credit check, most landlords will still want to get to know their prospective renter before signing a lease. A legitimate property owner should want to make sure you’ll take care of their space, and that you’ll pay your rent on time. A landlord who displays excessive urgency or wants to expedite the rental process may be a scammer.

You are unable to get in contact with previous renters.

One way to check the legitimacy of a listing and to avoid dealing with a rogue landlord is to speak with previous renters. Just as the landlord may ask a rental applicant to provide references, you can also request to be put in contact with the last people to rent the space. If the landlord can’t offer you any way to reach any of their previous renters, this may be a sign of trouble.

Person signing a contract or an agreement
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

How to Avoid Rental Scams

Finding a new home is stressful, so you may be tempted to jump over a few steps and get settled in as quickly as possible. However, taking the time to do your due diligence and screen rental listings will help you avoid scams and therefore save your time, money, and energy. Here are some things you can do to avoid getting scammed:

Arrange a viewing

Never rent a property without seeing it first. You must see the place to confirm that it exists and that it looks like the listing. If the landlord refuses to let you see the place or asks for a viewing fee, this might be a sign that it’s a scam.

Ignore suspicious listings

The rule of thumb is: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It can be tempting to respond to listings with below-market prices or extremely fancy-looking furniture, but you have to scroll past them and prioritize listings with real potential to become your new home.

Conduct basic research

Google reverse-image search every photo in the listing. If the property is listed on other websites, check that it has the same address and the same landlord. Any discrepancies in the different listings can be indicators of a scam.

You can also search the landlord’s name and check if they’re registered in the country where you’re looking to rent or look at their profiles on accommodation websites.

Never wire money upfront

Even if the landlord’s explanation for why they can’t handle the deal in person is extremely convincing, never wire or transfer money as it can be difficult to trace or track. Once you’ve verified the legitimacy of the deal, you can pay the landlord in-person and request an invoice or receipt.

Don’t provide any confidential information

Your banking information, social security or insurance numbers, or any other personal data can be used for identity theft. A legitimate landlord should not need any of this information. Make sure you verify their identity before allowing them any access to your credit history. Whenever possible, try to provide your credit report yourself.

Verify the owner of the property

Before signing the lease, request documentation that confirms the individual you’re signing does indeed have the authority to rent the place. A title deed or proof of ownership should be sufficient. If the landlord is reluctant to show these documents, you should avoid renting this property as it may not be owned by them.

Speak to previous renters

Talking to previous tenants can do more than just verify the identity of your prospective landlord. You can inquire about their responsiveness to property related requests or issues, their involvement in the property after the lease has been signed, and how accessible they are – all important elements of a landlord-tenant relationship.

Always sign a written lease

Avoid verbal agreements, as they may not be considered binding depending on your location, and can be difficult to prove in case of future disagreements over the lease.

All contracts should be signed by both parties: the landlord and the tenant. Make sure that each of you has their own copy, and that the name of the landlord of your lease is the same individual you’ve been dealing with through the rental process.

Make sure the terms of your rent are set in writing, including your rent, maintenance and any relevant fees. If you’re not sure what else should be listed in your lease, you can read our blog for a list of details to include.


Renters should always be careful of fraudulent listings, especially when looking for accommodation online. Unfortunately, rental scams are quite common, and the fake ads may appear quite genuine.

Remember: always do your research, follow the above steps to avoid scams, and never rush into renting until you’re completely sure you’ve found your next home!