In need of apartment: Don’t be scammed

Many things are responsible for the frequent request of house rent: as some people move away from an area – some other people move into the area.

However, for whatever might be responsible for changes of environment or as a result of first time renting, there is the need to educate yourself on listing scams and online fraud. We urge you to be vigilant by researching the legitimacy of any potential listings and perform all appropriate due diligence.

How do rental listing scams work?

Is someone asking you to send them money via Western Union, Moneygram, or Prepaid Visa card? Have the owners moved to another state and cannot show you the property? Did you just find a deal that is too good to turn down?

Those are possible signs of rental listing scams used to defraud users into wiring money or giving up personal information.

Scammers use a variety of tools and methods to post fraudulent listings on many sites. One method includes manually listing available properties by copying existing listings and posting them with new prices. They also take existing for-sale properties and post it as a rental listing. Lastly, they use listing management tools and syndicate the fraud across many different sites.

Once you have contacted a scammer, they usually ask for a few things: information, urgency, and money through Western Union, Moneygram, or a Prepaid Visa card.

Hey! Stop there. Flag the listing and continue your search.

How to spot and avoid rental scams?

The easiest sign of a rental scam is when someone asks you to wire money via Western Union, Moneygram, or Prepaid Visa card. Scammers usually ask for a deposit or first month’s rent before you even see the property.

Claim that the owner is out of the country on a mission, job opportunity, or military service. Always meet the landlord or agent in-person and at the property. Good idea is to always have a friend or family member with you.

The listing is significantly less than nearby similar properties. Beware. If it seems too good to be true, then chances are that it is a scam.

Emails from scammers are often littered with grammatical mistakes and typos. If the email is difficult to read, lengthy, or includes a sad story – it is, possibly, a scam.

Research the email address and phone number of the landlord or owner on Google. You might find that someone else has already posted a report on this individual.

Do not fill out an application until you have seen the property.

Never, under any circumstances, send money to anyone without securing a lease and confirming the property manager has legal right to rent the property.[1]

Never dealing in cash: The weak-point in almost all fraud schemes is receiving untraceable payment. Sophisticated crooks know that the police can track most common types of payment putting them at risk of arrest. Most criminals will insist on a difficult-to-trace form of payment and if you refuse they will look for an easier victim.

Speaking with the current tenants: In most cases, landlords are showing a unit that is currently occupied. Currently occupied units are far less likely to be fraudulent operations. If you have a chance, speak to the current tenants outside of the presence of the landlord to find out how the landlord treats tenants and whether anything unusual is taking place.

Being aware of market rates: The Chicago rental market is extremely hot, especially in the summer, because of this, there are few deals to be found and tenants should be suspicious of any apartment that is being offered at far below market rate.

Be wary of landlords that have little interest in your background: What sort of landlords do not worry about their tenant’s ability to pay, criminal record and past rental record? Most legitimate landlords will at least run a credit check; others will also request criminal history and rental history.

Using a licensed real estate agent: Many rentals in Chicago are managed by licensed real estate agents and it is not uncommon for tenants to have their own agent, especially in higher-rent neighborhoods. Having an agent represent you is a substantial safeguard because there is less risk that a scammer will list a property with an agent and also because if you are scammed you can hold the agent responsible.[2]

As you go in search of befitting apartment, always bear in mind that there is the need to work with an agent (with a level of credibility in his/her area of dominance).

Also, you should avoid rushing to pay for a too good apartment that costs little without proper research to avoid being scammed. Perhaps, someone had paid for the apartment and you do not know. Researches are always good to start with before making payment.

You might use our Freelance Investigative Reporting for this: we will give you credible information to give you a footing in the property deals.


[1] Trulia, Rental Listing Scams – Read Before You Search.

[2] BRABENDER LAW LLC, Avoiding Rental Scam.

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