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How to Avoid Apartment and House Rental Scams on Craigslist

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Apartment for rent or money trap? (Imaged edited by author)

Apartment for rent or money trap? (Imaged edited by author)

Thinking About Moving?

The time comes when you've just had enough of your neighbor's late-night "Rock Band" sessions. Or maybe you're just tired of your roommate stealing your peanut butter. Whatever the reason, you know when it's time to move to a new apartment. Today, finding an apartment online is easier than ever before. Most people turn to for their rental needs. Unfortunately, the popular website is under siege from malicious and potentially financially disastrous scams. This guide aims to provide you with some information to help protect you and your money.

Some scammers offer you the keys to your dream home if you'll just hand over your life savings.

Some scammers offer you the keys to your dream home if you'll just hand over your life savings.

The Scams

The following describes some of the common scams you can come across when searching for an apartment or house rental on Craigslist.

On a Mission, Be Right Back!

This scam is a classic that I have witnessed for myself. The scam begins when you find a great-looking property on Craigslist. Nothing about it really sticks out as a scam, and the posting looks legitimate. Generally, the listing lacks a phone number, so you must send an email. After a day or two, you receive an email that may or may not be understandable, depending on the intelligence of the scammer. In my case, the email was poorly worded and hard to even comprehend. The supposed home's “owner” was out of the country on a religious mission and explained he had been praying for someone to rent his house. Surprisingly, in this particular example, the man didn't ask me to send any money initially. He did, however, ask a series of bizarre questions and gave me a long-distance number to call. I imagine the request for money was forthcoming.

Usually, scams of this nature feature real pictures and real listings. The scammer saves up a collection of listings, including pictures, so that the ad looks real. You can even drive by the actual apartment/house to see it for yourself. However, this is most definitely a scam. Usually, these scams are perpetrated on people who do not live in the immediate area and are more willing to rent a unit without seeing it in person.

I Don't Actually Own This

Some scammers go to the trouble of putting on a pretty good charade to get your money. You find a listing and meet the scammer in person at the unit. Everything checks out, so you pull out your checkbook and hand over your money. Unfortunately, the scammer never even had the authority to rent the place. Sometimes, the scammer may have even stolen the keys of an empty unit to accomplish this charade. In other cases, the scammer simply rented the unit themselves from the true landlord by using false information. By the time you've figured out what happened, the scammer is long gone.

Yes, I Like Stealing Your Information

Identity thieves use Cragislist's apartment and house rentals section to get your sensitive personal details for their own malicious purposes. Some of these fraudulent listings entice people to hand over enough personal data so that the scammers can use the unsuspecting individual's bank account information. This is the sort of thing you definitely want to be careful of when using Craigslist for anything.

If someone is offering this place at $700 a month, you can bet it's a scam.

If someone is offering this place at $700 a month, you can bet it's a scam.

Signs to Look For

The following is a list of signs that could mean that the listing you're looking at is actually a fake:

Unbelievable Price

There is absolutely truth to the old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” A five-bedroom apartment in New York City with gold bathtubs with a rent of a mere $500 a month is not realistic.

Wire Money Request

Most scammers rely on wire transfers to get your money. Wiring money leaves you little recourse if something goes wrong.

Too Much Personal Information

Craigslist users who ask for too much personal and sensitive information upfront could be looking to steal your information.

Suspicious Story

If the listing offers a long-winded story about why the apartment is for rent, it might be a scam. For example, some scam listings talk about how incredible the apartment is and then detail a long story about having to suddenly travel out of the country in some emergency.

Incorrect Information

Sometimes, descriptions in a fraudulent posting do not match the listing's pictures. The scammer may even be silly enough to use a snowy picture of a house in Colorado in an attempt to pass it off as a Las Vegas home. Sometimes the address given in the advertisement might not even exist.

If you do find a posting, you believe to be a scam, flag it as prohibited on the Craigslist website to prevent other users from falling into a trap.

You're better off giving your money to this cat instead of wiring it to someone on Craigslist.

You're better off giving your money to this cat instead of wiring it to someone on Craigslist.

How to Avoid Scams

So, what can you do to avoid apartment rental scams and fraud on Craigslist?

Deal Locally

When renting a house or apartment, you should only deal with local people you can meet in person. Also, only rent a unit you can see in person. If you let a suspicious apartment pass you by, rest assured that there will always be another apartment. It's not worth forking your money over on the rare possibility that the owner might truly be on a life-saving mission to save the penguins in Antarctica.

Guard Your Money and Information

Do not go through with a rental that requires you to wire money upfront without ever even meeting the owner. Don't send your personal information off to an email address. Craigslist is not eBay, where you have protections and regulations. It is simply an online meeting place people for people looking to sell, rent, or buy. You have to protect yourself and your money.

Do Your Research

Always read through every Craigslist post with a critical eye. Remember, scammers are counting on you not to look at the listing closely. Research everything the advertisement mentions, including the address and any names. If it's an apartment, investigate the company that owns and manages the building. If you're trying to lease a sublet, talk to the management company first.

You can also try copying and pasting some of the phrases used in a suspicious listing into a search engine. Frequently, scammers will simply copy and paste their work around the Internet. In some cases, you might even find forums and other websites discussing the very scammer you've found.

Final Thoughts

Renting an apartment or house from Craigslist is not an easy task. There are plenty of scammers online looking for a way to get your money. However, it's still very possible to find a great rental on Craigslist if you're willing to take the time to carefully look at each listing.

Good luck, and don't give up!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 cactusbythesea


Nuria Blanco on July 18, 2017:

I need houses for rent in port charlotte,please.

Chris on November 11, 2016:

Rental Fraud is easy to avoid and to ensure you are renting from legitimate owners

The International Property Rental Approval Certification

It's the body for rentals

Just book through an IPRAC member you can't be a victim of a scam

Just some advise

Scott on August 25, 2016:

I'm actually in the middle of subletting an apartment off of Craigslist but I currently live on the west coast. Any way I can email you a few questions and the synopsis and get your thoughts and see if I'm getting into trouble??

Kate on August 22, 2016:

Thanks, Joshua. Great tips for sure. Although it takes a lot of time to find a property on Craigslist. There is a whole bunch of websites, except Craigslist, for long-term rentals. I personally like It’s very easy in use and has many convenient features. For example, you can sign the contract and pay you rent online.

brian on May 24, 2016:

I searched for the home using the general location and square footage, because that was the easiest detail to find. I found the home and the most recent rental price. I was shocked. Shocked!!SHOCKED!! that I almost fell into the scammers trap.

Iamtuwild on May 23, 2016:

Also anyone can call the county assessors office with an address and get the owners name So when they see a house for sale they can get name on one call. I am checking a scam in AZ and the person was going to let me drive from San Francisco to bulkhead city!!!

Michaela on May 06, 2016:

I'm pretty sure the listing of 1306 sw western topeka ks is a scam..250 a month all bills paid ..out of state landlord. Wants money gram then states Keys will be sent. Sent lease over email .texts from and requests money to be sent to mankota Minnesota..asked Mr to confirm his email address

Andre Smith on March 25, 2016:

Look out for Frank Trice in Las Vegas renting 850 East Desert Inn Road. Claims to have 2br/2ba penthouse for $1500.00 /mo that includes EVERYTHING!!! Not real... he is working with a John McWhorter of Hurst, TX as the receiver of wire. Don't send any money in advance for lease agreement EVER!!!

Fay Henderson on November 17, 2015:

Ok ! I met this "Guy " that said his Aunt could help with the paperwork,give me taxcrrdit for lower rent . When it came ti.e to sign the lease he started talking gibberish about meeting me somewhere with a receipt and key. I said I would pay at the leasing office with a money order to the company. I looked at the apartment and loved it!

pauline on August 26, 2014:

Thanks very good info I'm looking for apt right now

cactusbythesea (author) from Seattle on February 13, 2014:

Great tip, Joshua! Thank you for adding that. There is a lot you can learn about apartments and houses through public records.

Joshua on February 12, 2014:

Yep. I'm pretty sure that at this very moment there is someone on a "mission" in west Africa trying to get me to rent "their" house. It really is not obvious that they are sacammers, but something felt off. So i confirmed it.

And this is how.

Go into the cities public records and look at the address and who bought the house and when.

Just thought it was a good tip.