The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Looking for an apartment? Beware of the five most common rental-fraud scams.


Consumers are frequently warned about the dangers of identity theft and credit card fraud, both common problems of modern life, but an estimated 5.2 million renters have lost money from rental fraud, according to a report by Apartment List.

The rental listing site’s first Rental Fraud Survey found that 43 percent of renters have encountered what they suspect was a fraudulent listing. In addition, 6.4 percent of renters lost money in a rental scam. Younger renters, ages 18 to 29, are more likely to be victimized in a rental scam. The survey found that 9.1 percent of renters in that age range had lost money to a rental scam. One in 3 victims lost $1,000 or more in a scam.

Renters typically need to provide sensitive personal information when applying for a rental home and pay a security deposit.

What you don’t know about what’s in that apartment lease can hurt you big time

Among the most common rental-fraud scams, according to Apartment List, are:

1. Bait-and-switch: A different property is advertised than the available rental, and the scammer tries to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for this property.

2. Phantom rentals: A scam artist makes up listings for places that don’t exist or aren’t rentals and tries to lure renters with low prices.

3. Hijacked ads: A fake landlord posts advertisements for a real property with altered contact information. Homes for sale are often re-listed as rentals in this type of fraud.

4. Missing amenities: A real rental is listed as having features and amenities it lacks to collect a higher rent, the rental market equivalent of catfishing in online dating, when someone fakes their identity. The leasing agent tries to get renters to sign the lease before they notice the missing amenities.

5. Already leased: A real or fake landlord attempts to collect application fees or security deposits for a rental that is already leased.

For the full report, click here.