Preventing and Identifying Single-Family Rental Fraud

Fraudulent practices are unfortunately prevalent in rental housing, but informed consumers who know how to spot the signs of fraud can get the quality rental home of their dreams. NRHC and its members are on the front lines of the fight against fraud, working with law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission to identify and prevent fraud in rental listings.

NRHC members want you to know that 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:

  • Got a good vibe? Rental home listings should be on a rental company’s website and/or additional internet listing services. If it does not, or the home price and details are not consistent, it may be a scam. If, instead, you find a home on an online listing service, 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.
  • Nothing sketchy yet? Apply through the rental company, licensed real estate professional or listings website.
  • Take a tour. Ask for identification. Rental agents should have photo ID badges issued by the company that owns or manages the property.
  • Ready to sign a lease? If there are any signs at or in the home with the name of a company that owns or manages the property, 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 Federal Trade Commission. For more tips, visit the FTC’s Rental Listing Scams. Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free consumer alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/subscribe.