Rental Scams, Part II: Fake “For Rent” Online Ads

in Find an Apartment on by

Ever seen a listing for a rental that just seems too good to be true? Perfect location, ideal building — and the price is half what you would expect. There are plenty of listings like that on Craigslist and other sites. But if you dig a little deeper, those deals really are too good to be true.

Some of these rental ads are simple scams. The scammer posts a listing for a real property and waits for responses. When potential renters contact the ‘landlord,’ he or she is usually out of town or otherwise available — but the renter is welcome to walk around the outside of the property.

The ‘landlord’ asks for a deposit and the first month’s rent to be wired to an account that is almost always international (Nigeria is an especially common location). After the victim does just that, the scammer disappears with the money.

These ads look fairly realistic because scammers take real ads and change just a few details. Valerie Haboush has a rental in North Plainfield, New Jersey, which she listed on Craigslist. She was surprised to get phone calls after her ad ended — asking about a potential scam.

She found that a new ad was up for her rental, using the same text and photos she had used in her own ad, but with a much lower price and new contact information. Worse, the Nigerian-based scammer running the ad had created an email account in Valerie’s name and was using it to communicate with prospective tenants.

Valerie doesn’t think that any victims actually got to the point where they sent money to the scammers, because of the number of concerned renters who called her directly about the property.

There are certain warning signs you should look for when considering online rental ads.

  • If the price really does seem absurdly low for an area, try to find out why.
  • A scammer is more likely to say that they just have to get the place rented fast than mention actual problems with a property.
  • Most landlords are also willing to show you a place in person — in fact, they prefer it because it gives them an opportunity to check out potential renters before handing over the keys.
  • You should consider a refusal to meet with you a red flag.
  • Lastly, avoid handing over any money — even a check — until you actually have the keys in your hand.

Do you unfortunately have experience with rental ad scams? Tell us your story below.

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14 Responses to “Rental Scams, Part II: Fake “For Rent” Online Ads”

  1. November 20, 2008 at 1:32 am, Guest said:

    My house which is for sale was listed for rent..lots of people came. A few took for sale flyers and called my realtor to let her know…thank goodness!! The ad was on Craigslist but CL wouldn’t take it off even when my realtor’s legal team contacted them. Thanks for this article!


  2. November 22, 2008 at 9:59 pm, Guest said:

    I started to fall for a Craigs List rental, where the owner was on a “mission trip”. How do I get keys and sign contracts with someone out of the country – who doesn’t have any local friends or an agent? By typing the address of the home into my search engine, I discovered the real owner, and the real price. I called the owner & their agent, and the next day, the ad was pulled from Craig’s List. If it sounds fishy, it is.


  3. November 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm, Guest said:

    wow, imagine that old statuate!

    never would have thought the old school rules would apply to craigslist.


  4. February 04, 2009 at 10:49 pm, Ron said:

    I just bought a 4 plex and put in an in craigslist. and man ol man do I get creative replies!

    From hints like a person has 2k coming back in income tax and all I have to do is send them 1K and use the other as first and last month’s payment. Of course all this can be verified and vouched for and of course I ignore such offers (like I am going to send a grand to someone and wait for them to pull up in the U-haul to move in).

    Another is from some guy in the UK willing to pay 2 years rent as sponsored by his company. Such a deal! All I have to do is send him my bank and personal information to received cashier’s check good as gold.

    The only thing is that of course his travel expenses are included in this check so he needs one from me right back so he can travel. My bank tells me that it can take 3 weeks for a international cashier’s check to clear and it might be a good as gold at the time it i sent but he has 3 weeks to withdraw the money making it a costly experience.

    How do people find time to sit there and run these scams? who falls for them?

    “Kevin Taylor”

    “Good day,
    I really appreciate your response and details provided, my sponsors (Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals) have agreed on the monthly fees to be paid for the next two years on my behalf. Therefore, they agreed to pay up front the amount of ($950 PAYMENT FOR THE FIRST MONTH RENT PLUS DEPOSIT STARTING FROM MY MOVING IN DATE WHICH WILL BE ON THE 1ST OF FEBRUARY); also since I will be staying for two years, the company has agreed to pay in a monthly installation. Furthermore, I would like you to know a US Cashier cheque will be issued to you in an excess amount by my sponsors for the first month rent, security deposit and my travelling expenses. (Please see attached note) ; the excess amount will be sent to me immediately as soon as you receive payment from my sponsors.
    However, the information below is required from you by my sponsors to have payment sent to you immediately in order for you to hold down this property until I arrive;


    yeah right!

    SCAMS go both ways. I am just a working guy who bought a 4 plex and instead of being able to simply provide a nice home for someone (I live on the property too) I have to sift thught endless SCAMS.

    Ebay will let me post a free add for my place, but I have to pay 9 bucks for every response- so this could have cost me 9 bucks.

    No wonder why landlords seem harsh! We just want to rent out a unit and get rent- too much to ask?


  5. March 11, 2009 at 11:22 am, Mark Peters said:


    We often find our own Amsterdam apartments that we advertise on craigslist in other adds on craigslist at bizarre rates.

    Please note that most often the price they charge is not realistic, so that should already alarm you. Furthermore they come up with the strangest stories and requests if you would book the apartment.

    Lat but not least, as soon as you write them a mail they always seem to wish you all the god blesses available, I do not think a normal business would do that (correct me if I am wrong).

    So please be careful booking via craigslist, search for the apartment online and you will probably find the real rental agent.

    Be careful out there!


  6. April 21, 2009 at 12:22 am, DW said:

    I found a rental on craiglist lies! new appliances ya right I had to buy a frig, propane leakes so owner bought a new stove blamed it on me. Repairs ,repairs I have only been here a few months now .The landlord and owner are saying I’m doing these things to the place. He told me he would take care of every thing that needed repair. Lies I will be here for a couple more months. I will not contact them for anything ,told me I could not have anyone come in and do the work either. Won;t let me breal my lease. I feel very sad I trusted him and he lied to me and turned it all around like he never told me these things.
    Be careful
    Thank you for letting me vent


  7. May 15, 2009 at 9:12 pm, Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the email. I Young own the 1 bedroom apartment and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me and my wife to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean at the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own..

    So for now, We are here in west Africa, our new house and also with the keys of the house, we try to look for an agent that we can give this documents before we left but could not see and we are as well as don’t want our house to be used any how in our present that is why we took it along with us.

    I and my wife came over to West Africa for a missionary work, so i hope you will promise us to take very good care of the house. So get back to me on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of US$600(2 months first payment) with hydro,heat laundry facilities, air condition and so on. I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house for rent, ? Await your reply..
    This is the address of the Apartment
    Location: 73 89th St, 11209 Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
    our cell phone #: 0112347090439353



  8. May 26, 2009 at 6:45 pm, supercat said:

    CRAIGSLIST checks out NOTHING. So many scammers now on the RENTAL listings section.

    Just monitor it for a couple days, you can identify them instantly by the descriptions,, (they NEVER list THE address) low prices and the boat loads of amenities they list.

    Just hit “scam” in the right hand corner of the AD. You then see “thanks for flagging” from CL. I understand it takes 2 flags to CL………. BEFORE they de-list a FRAUD notice.


  9. June 25, 2009 at 9:57 pm, frankiesmommy said:

    I’ve been looking for an apt. I did go on Craigslist I did not call about anything tho because I’m not quite ready to move money wise the bldg. I’m interested in I’m familar with but the rent is real reasonable and as someone on disability that is important..However (alittle of topic) the owner of the bldg. I live in now says I can not move…I did not sign the original lease but I did sign the renewal and I asked the manager if I had to give notice to move and I explained to her that living here with my husband has become unbearable and for the sake of my mental health I need to get away from him,she called the owner and attempted to explain the situation and he told her to tell me that if I move out he will take me to court because he says I am responsible for 50% of the rent and I told her to tell him I have never even paid the rent this is my husbands apt. not mine..So tell me WHAT CAN I DO ? I am disabled,I have Arthritis in my back and hands,I’m bipolar with suicidal idealogy,high blood presure,asthma,COPD…And the treatment I am recieving in this apt. is really messing with my mind as well as my breathing…I just want to find my own apt. and live in peace………………


  10. August 17, 2009 at 3:51 am, Anonymous said:

    i am from australia and i have been looking for an apartment and i finally found 1 that was to good to be true.
    I contacted the email address requesting some information on the property and i recieved reply within 24hours from a gentleman explaining him and his wife owned the property in Sydney, he was a rev and was sent to south africa for missionary work and his wife lived and worked in america, the information i was given was very informative, i was them asked to contact his wife, she could send me some photo’s of the property and any other information i needed than we could organise the deposit…
    i have checked out some useful links my friends had forwarded to me and it just so happens that it was a fruad….
    If i didn’t have friends that were looking out for my best interests i probably would fallen for the scam… They seemed really genuine…..


  11. January 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm, tiffany said:

    I recently signed a lease with a couple, the price seemed low but they said they were just trying to cover their mortgage. They gave me keys to the building and apt and mailbox and kept postponing me for the garage door opener. I went to the apt to do some initial cleaning and the keys didnt work for the door or mailbox. I called the landlord several times after I couldnt get in the house and never got a hold of him so I stopped payment on the deposit/rent check; they tried to cash it at a check cashing place the day after I wrote it (shady). I checked the tax records and they are not the owners of the house but the lease does not say registered agent, and he signed where it said owner. So watch out for these crazy types and check if the keys work before you leave the house. I think they may have broken in through the jalousy windows and opened it from the inside out, or they were the old renters. Thank God I stopped payment on the check before they scammed me completely.


  12. February 17, 2010 at 5:05 am, James Skeet said:

    I tried to book an apartment via craigslist, it seemed excellent, but luckily if found out it was a scam. Then a friend told me to try So I booked for a week and was a happy camper!

    a lucky man


  13. September 02, 2010 at 8:27 am, tia said:

    Tiffany that is insane, i wonder what city are you in. Craigslist really isn’t the way to go for rentals anymore,or too much else for that matter. it’s just not safe, too many scams, sure you can find an apt there but you have to do ALOt of work and go through alot of fake ads before you even find something that isn’t spam, just not where you looking for ( erroneous information) or a full fledged scam. sad that these days people are like that, bu t it’s just a reality


  14. May 31, 2013 at 12:52 am, Selena Millieux said:

    Umm Tia,where else can one use to look or place ads besides craigslist. Yes you can look at the local newspaper for rental ads but guess what? Scammers post in newspapers too. Also there are many landlords who does not use rental agency’s to rent their places,in order to cut cost of agency’s fee. Craigslist and other places really need to crack down also on spam ads,I have flagged the same ad more than once and still see them listed. It is sad.


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