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Rental Listing Scams: How to Spot and Dodge Them
When you're looking for a new place to live, there are a variety of factors to consider - size, cost, location and more. Scammers hope all of that distracts you from recognizing a fraudulent listing.
Fraudulent rental listings typically happen in two ways:
- Hijacked Ads - Some scammers may copy a listing from a legitimate real estate listing and place it on a different website. It all looks legitimate, but in reality the bad actor is promoting a property they're not affiliated with.
- Phantom Rentals - Other scammers may make up a listing altogether in an effort to cheat an unsuspecting renter out of money. These will often offer rent that is far lower than other listings in the area.
RENTAL RED FLAGS
When searching for a place to rent, it is important to rely on reputable websites that not only provide a detailed listing and photos, but also contact information for the landlord.
Once you think you've found the property that's right for you, there are signs of scammers to watch out for:
- You're asked to wire money - Once you send money through a wire transfer, there's no way to get it back. This includes being asked to use payment apps, gift cards or cryptocurrency. Scammers know this and will try to rely on this uncommon form of payment to collect a security deposit or a rent payment.
- You're asked to provide a security deposit or first month's rent before touring or signing a lease - No legitimate rental company or landlord will ask you to pay up front for an apartment or house you haven't seen. You also should not be asked to provide a payment prior to finalizing a lease, aside from an application fee. If you can't visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go for you to verify the listing is legitimate.
- You find the listing under different names - Just like it's important to see the property yourself, it's also important to search it online. If the same ad is listed on multiple sites, verify the details are consistent across listings. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, it may be a scam.
- You learn the landlord is out of town - Initial steps are taken and it's time to move to meeting, but the contact suddenly informs you they're unavailable and will be using someone else to finalize a lease and get you the keys. Some scammers will go as far as making a fake key for a property.
Bottom line: If you can't meet in person, tour the property and sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
Not concerned about a scam but you need rent assistance? The Michigan State Housing Development Authority has federal funds available to help tenants facing pandemic-related hardships avoid eviction, while also ensuring landlords can recoup owed rent through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program. Click here for more information.
TO REPORT A SCAM, FILE A COMPLAINT OR GET ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, CONTACT THE MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF ATTORNEY GENERAL:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form