home with key

by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Need more space than an apartment, condo or townhouse can offer, but not ready to buy? A single-family home rental may fit the bill. But not all home rental listings are legit, so here are some tip-offs and tools to help you avoid a rental scam.

According to National Rental Home Council (NRHC) members, who are owners of rental homes, scammers use a variety of tactics to get people’s money. Some hijack a real rental listing by changing the email address or other contact information and then placing the altered ad on another site. Others gain access to keys in lock boxes, make copies, and pose as legitimate rental agents. Still others may list a property that’s already leased and then try to collect application fees, security deposits, and even the first month’s rent.

Here are some tips to help you avoid rental scams:

Do an online search of the rental company. Enter its name plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you may want to look elsewhere.
Got a good vibe? Rental home listings may appear in several places, including rental company websites and online listing services like Zillow, Trulia or Craigslist. If you see a rental company’s listing on one of those online listing services, do a search of the home’s address to make sure it appears on the rental company’s website. If it doesn’t, it may be a scam.

Compare prices. Is the rent a lot less than comparable rentals? That could be a red flag.
Take a tour. Ask for identification. Rental agents should have photo ID badges issued by the company that owns or manages the property.

Nothing sketchy yet? Apply through the rental company, licensed real estate professional or listings website.

Before you sign a lease, look for signs at the rental with the name of the property owner or manager. Call that company before making a deal with anyone.

Never pay with cash, wire transfers or gift cards. If anyone tells you to pay this way, it’s a sure sign of a scam. Wiring money is like sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back. As for gift cards, they’re for gifts, NOT for payments.

If you spot a rental scam, report it to local law enforcement and the FTC.

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