Whether you’re selling, buying, or renting, you need to be aware of scammers out there right now looking for your money.

This past weekend we listed a home on Meadow Road in the Meadowgate subdivision. Within hours I was getting calls from people who wanted to rent the home. The home was for sale, not for rent. 

Yet take a look at this listing on Facebook Marketplace at 0:25 in the video above. Clearly someone had taken the pictures from the MLS, Zillow, or even Realtor.com and put an ad out for some unsuspecting person looking to rent a house. This house happened to be vacant, but we’ve seen other scammers take furnished, occupied listings and post them as rentals as well.

Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth. Here’s how rental scams work:

Scammers know that finding the right apartment or vacation rental can be hard work, and a seemingly good deal is hard to pass up. They’ve been known to game some vacation rental websites and bulletin boards. Yes, they can even scam you when you’re looking for a vacation rental, so it’s especially important to be vigilant this time of year.

Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. Other ripoff artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

“If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and the Federal Trade Commission.”

Here are some red flags that indicate scammers may be trying to trick you:

1. They tell you to wire money. This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash—once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

2. They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.

3. The person you’re in contact with says they’re out of the country. They may even tell you they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or an “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Don’t send money to them overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.

If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission.

As always, if you have questions about this or any real estate topic, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to help.