Finding an affordable home to rent is getting harder to do and scammers are trying to take advantage of that fact. Police around the country are reporting an uptick in rental scams, crimes that were common about a decade ago.
In the Atlanta area, law enforcement officers are getting reports of people turning over upfront payments to people they believed to be landlords, only to find they didn’t own the property. The scammers are posting rental listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
Sometimes they download pictures from other sites and make up a listing with a rock-bottom price. Other times they “hijack” an actual listing, changing the contact information and posting it on other sites.
In every case, scammers are trying to take advantage of renters’ growing anxiety about finding an affordable place to live.
"Unfortunately, many innocent people have fallen victim to these scams, and we want to help you avoid the same fate," a spokesperson for the South Fulton Police Department told WAGA-TV. "If a rental property seems too good to be true, it probably is."
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it’s easy to spot one of these scams if you know what to look for. Here are three big red flags:
They tell you to wire money
This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back. The same is true if they ask for payment using gift cards.
They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease
The FTC says it’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.
They say they’re out of the country
But they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. They might tell you that a lawyer or an “agent” working on their behalf will provide access. The FTC says you should never send money to a “landlord” overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.