Getting scammed is embarrassing. Whether it’s an auction site purchase, an allegedly “free” vacation, or an apartment rental, you usually feel stupid in hindsight when all those big red flags suddenly become visible to you. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though — scammers are professionals who prey on honest people, so just chalk it up to experience and learn from your mistakes.
What to Do If You’ve Already Been Scammed
Forget your pride and embarrassment over being duped. Now’s a great chance to do the right thing. Not only will exposing a rental scam show your altruistic side, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of helping strangers in similar situations to avoid losing money and time.
If you’ve been swindled in any way, immediately take one or more of these steps:
Contact the Police
Don’t be embarrassed. Just look at the report as you doing your civic duty, or an act that could’ve saved you time and money had someone before you reported the incident. Chances are slim you’ll recover any money, but if more people report the same con, the odds of finding the thief increase exponentially.
Get in Touch with the Publisher of the Ad
Whether you found the listing online or in a newspaper, no publisher wants to tarnish their reputation by promoting scam artists. Find the appropriate contact form or email address, describe in detail what happened to you, and let them know you’ve reported the incident to the police. Publishers will often follow up by asking other readers if they’ve had similar experiences, which helps law enforcement build a case and track down the culprit.
File a Formal Complaint
Be sure to file complaints with the state consumer protection agency, as well any city and county agencies and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The more you make the scam public, the better your chances of stopping the fraud.
Learn from Your Bad Experience
Share your experience with friends and family. Use what you learned and confidently proceed with your apartment search armed with newfound wisdom and insight.
How to Spot an Apartment Scam
If you’ve been scammed on an apartment rental and you’re still reeling, it’s probable the con employed one or more of these common tricks. Before you get back on the rental horse, you’ll want to be on the lookout for these common rental fraud scenarios:
Phony Claims About Amenities
Olympic-size swimming pools, garage parking, a state-of-the-art gym — anything you’ve ever wanted in an apartment, this agent has it. Unless you can see it all in person, (pictures and websites don’t count) back off fast.
An Abnormally Large Deposit
Most city, county and/or state housing authorities have limits on how much landlords can charge for deposits on rental properties. On top of that, some areas prohibit security deposits altogether. Always check the laws in your area before you start hunting. Many scammers will just take your deposit and disappear.
Rental Rate Doesn’t Match Others in the Neighborhood
If all the units of similar size in a neighborhood are around $2000 a month and you’re shown a similar apartment for a lot less, take it as a big red flag. The person who shows you the property may not be the actual leasing agent but a scam artist just collecting deposits from several potential renters and skipping town.
Requested Information is Minimal/No Lease Mentioned
Even if you and the landlord seem to have a magical instant rapport and trust seems mutual, that doesn’t mean general protocols are not in order. If no credit report is requested and no lease is discussed or presented for review, something shady is probably in the works.
One of the oldest rental scams in books is the act of showing a property to several parties, taking deposits from everyone, and then leaving everyone in a lurch, all of them thinking they’ve just secured a new home. For that reason, it’s important to watch out for landlords who request low cash-only deposits on the spot.
Renting an apartment you can’t see in person is difficult but often necessary if you’re relocating to a distant city. Unfortunately, landlords can provide pictures of any apartment at all to draw you in, lie about the neighborhood’s amenities and location, and tell you exactly what you want to hear to get that deposit. Always make sure to look up the address online, look at images and videos of the neighborhood, and check out sites like Craigslist to view nearby rental properties before parting with any money.
If you’ve already fallen for a scam, don’t get discouraged. Most landlords and property managers are fair and scrupulous. Use what you’ve learned as you continue your search more confident and well-informed. Picture yourself in your new apartment entertaining friends at a housewarming party, raising a glass to celebrate your new home, and saying: “And now, I have a story to tell that you’ll find hard to believe.” When that moment finally arrives, you’ll see that your humor and self-deprecating remarks prove that you emerged as a winner.