Rental Scams Are on The Rise As Cost of Living Continues to Skyrocket — Here’s What to Watch For

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If you’re on the hunt for a rental home these days, beware of deals that seem too good to be true — because they probably are. The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker found that more than 2,400 rental scams were reported in the United States during the six months ending on Aug. 15, 2022.

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This is perhaps not surprising, considering how desperate some Americans are to find decent rentals in a market where supply can’t keep up with demand, and where average rental prices in many cities have been rising by double digits for more than a year.  

According to the BBB, one of the most popular scams involves a fraudster posing as a landlord and putting up a listing for a beautiful home in a prime location with cheap rent and great amenities — a combination that’s all but impossible to find in today’s market. The listing might even have real photos and descriptions swiped from other websites. It looks like a great deal, so you hop right on it.

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When you hear back from the “landlord,” they tell you they’re out of town and unable to show the property. They then let you know that this deal won’t last long because of an avalanche of applicants, so you’d better pay your deposit immediately if you want to secure the rental. You might also be asked to fill out an application requesting your Social Security number and other personal details.

In one scam reported to the BBB, the victim filled out an application link and sent $100 to the “landlord” through CashApp. The “landlord” then requested another $400 to hold the property, at which point the victim refused because they hadn’t even met the “landlord” or seen the property. The victim ended up losing the $100 — and sharing personal information with a con artist.

Here are some tips from the BBB on how to avoid this and other scams:

  • Stay away from once-in-a-lifetime deals. If you see a listing for a great rental with low rent in a hot market, it’s a red flag. In the current market, you might find one of those features, but not all three at the same time.
  • Search online for similar properties. When you see a listing, compare it to other listings for similar homes in the same area. If other rentals are priced much higher, that’s a red flag. Another red flag is when you find the exact same listing in other cities.
  • Demand to see the property in person before sending money. With few exceptions, no legit landlord or rental company will ask you to send money without first seeing a property. If they can’t actually show you the property, they are probably scammers.
  • Don’t pay strangers with cash transfer apps. Many scammers request payment through peer-to-peer apps instead of wired funds or prepaid cards. You should only use these apps with people you know and trust. It’s fine to pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle or another P2P app, but don’t use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.
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For more information, visit the BBB’s Moving home page.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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