Maybe you’re an up-and-coming college student going to university in a new city or a young professional moving into the corporate world in a different town. Either way, we’ve all heard stories of potential renters getting scammed online.

With rental scams on the rise, we understand your fear of encountering real estate fraud when looking for rooms to rent. To avoid becoming a victim of it yourself, read on for everything you need to know about rental property scams. We’ll cover how to spot one, what to do if you do get scammed, and how to prevent it from happening again.

What are rental scams, and how do they happen?

In simple terms, rental property scams are fake ads or properties posted as genuine listings on websites. Most of the time, a phony listing has noticeable qualities. The problem is, if you don’t know what to look out for, you could be tricked. If in doubt, here are some of the things you should look out for when browsing for apartments to avoid rental scams.

Incomplete listing details

As with any website, it’s always good practice to check if all the essential details have been posted. Accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation also matters, because serious landlords take time to create a description that people will actually be interested in. So, if the listing is lacking information or has lots of errors, it’s could well be a rental fraud.

The price is too good to be true

If you see a property being sold for a ‘steal ‘ **or a price below its market rate, it’s probably a scam. In these situations, the best thing to do is to check other listings of the same size, location, and services and compare the prices.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean cheap listings are always fraudulent. The owner may not be up-to-date with current rental prices, or perhaps the place has some downsides to it. Whatever the reason for the low listing price, it pays to do your research.

Having to pay many ‘potential tenant fees’

It’s common for landlords to do background checks on their potential tenants, but some charge excessive fees for it (or even add unnecessary charges!). Typically, a background check can cost around $10 to $50 depending on the type of search. If a landlord tries to charge you a lot more than that, it may be cause for suspicion.

The owner won’t allow you to visit the property

Not being allowed to view the apartment in person before making a deal should be an immediate red flag. As a potential tenant, you need to see your new digs to know whether you’d be happy to live there or not.

There are many reasons owners don’t allow visits:

  1. The property doesn’t exist and they’re just out to get your money.
  2. The apartment has already been rented out to someone else.
  3. The apartment looks nothing like the pictures that were posted.

Related: All You Need To Know About The Rental Application Process

The owner may also make excuses for not having the keys or access to the property while insisting on payment (e.g. a deposit to reserve the apartment) right away. Then, once they receive the money, they disappear.

In general, scammers have one goal: to steal your money. But by looking out for anything that seems odd or suspicious, you can avoid becoming a victim of rental property scams.

Tips on how to avoid rental scams

Now that you know how to recognize rental frauds, here are some extra tips to stop you being caught out in future.

1. Constantly communicate with the owner or landlord

Sending a message to a potential landlord is easy, but constantly keeping up a conversation with them about the property can be difficult. Some don’t reply well or are just not good with virtual discussions. So, it’s best to initiate a phone call instead or to personally meet with your landlord.

It’s also helpful to have a list of questions ready to ask the owner, whether over the phone or in person. This way, you’ll be able to see if they’re fully informed about the apartment – anything less can be potentially suspicious.

2. Visit the property in person before signing anything

If the apartment is listed as being only five minutes away from the grocery store or subway, visiting the property will tell you whether the advert is accurate. More than that, you can meet with the owner, scout the location, and talk with other tenants (or potential neighbors!)

By personally seeing the place, you can get a feel of how the apartment would work for you. You’d be able to see how far it is from your work or university, and most importantly, you can learn more from people who live nearby. Ask about the neighborhood and if they like living there – maybe even ask about your potential landlord!

3. Do your own research

Browsing for a place requires a lot of effort, but to ensure you’re safe from rental scams you should always do your own research too. Learn more about the place, the landlord, and even the website you’re using to find apartments.

Doing a quick search of the address can help you check if it’s a real place, or something made up by the scammer. You can also search the landlord’s name on the website to see if there are any reviews under their names. If there aren’t any or they’re pretty negative, you may want to think twice about contacting them.

4. Trust your instincts

If you get a bad feeling at any point during the process of renting a place, trust your gut.

Maybe the owner said something strange, or the place just doesn’t feel right with you, or maybe the area isn’t like it was described. Nonetheless, listen to what your mind and instincts are telling you because most of the time, they are right.

Related: What Happens If One Roommate Breaks The Lease?

What to do if you’ve been scammed

  • Contact the website’s support team. Most websites have a help center or support team that can help you once you reach out to them. With Roomi, for instance, you can submit a report or contact the team directly. This way, they can quickly take down the phony listing.
  • Report to the local authorities. The local authorities can help you track and identify the scammer to prevent anything fraudulent from happening again.
  • File a report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is an agency that helps stop any fraudulent or deceptive acts from happening in businesses. Moreover, they can protect consumers from unsafe business practices. If you come across a rental scam, report it through this website to get it’s stopped.

So… what now?

Even with all this information, it’s normal to be wary of phony listings on the internet – and rightfully so! However, with Roomi (an all-around app for room and roommate finders), you don’t have to worry about stumbling across rental scams.

Roomi takes the safety and security of its users very seriously, with a comprehensive verification process and secure in-app messaging. They also provide 24/7 content moderation and even their own Security and Safety Team, to put your mind at ease. So, what are you waiting for? Download the app now and find the best apartment for you!

Roomi is your one-stop option to list or find rooms, find roommates to settle into a new city easily. Download the app and sign up today!