Finding a new place to live can be a time-consuming process. Scammers know this and cash in on eager renters who rush into agreements without doing the necessary research. The proliferation of online real estate and vacation rental sites make it easy for scammers to steal photos and descriptions of real places, and free online bulletin boards like Craigslist attract bargain hunters.
How the Scam Works:
Rental scams lure you with online ads touting beautiful homes, low rents, and great amenities. For local rentals, the scammer may claim to be out of town and unable to show the property. In some cases, bold scammers have even gained illegal access to homes belonging to others and have “shown” the property as if they own it! Scammers create a false sense of urgency, telling the prospective renter that others are interested so immediate action is required. The renter puts down a security deposit, only to find out that the property is not available… or does not exist.
In a recent ScamTracker report, a South Texas resident lost $1,000 to an imitation Airbnb rental linked from Craigslist. The scammer claimed to be a Military member overseas and requested a security deposit through MoneyGram. Once the money was received, communication stopped, and the rental turned out to be fake.
Tips to Avoid This Scam:
Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities, great locations, and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. Search online for the listings, or the scammer’s email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.
See the property in person. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. And don’t fall for the overseas landlord story.
Communicate and pay through the platform. Always pay through the rental platform. If a property is listed through Airbnb, you will never need to pay the landlord directly or through email.
Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas or to a fake “agent”. Wired money and gift cards are extremely difficult to trace.
If you become a victim, report the scam at and Also, contact the wire transfer company, the rental platform and file a police report.