Avoiding Apartment Rental Scams

BY Walnut/DB Sheriff’s Department

Walnut-Diamond Bar-The Walnut/Diamond Bar Sheriff’s Department has offered the following tips when looking for apartments to avoid rental scams.
Finding an apartment can often be time consuming and emotionally frustrating. Time constraints and financial considerations can often place the apartment seeker in a vulnerable position where they can fall prey to Apartment Rental Scammers.
While Apartment Rental Scams come in a variety of schemes, they basically boil down to two types: Either the scammer has no authority to offer an existing apartment for rent or the scammer is trying to rent a fictitious apartment. In either case, the goal of the scammer is to get the victim to pay money upfront for a list of available apartments in the area or to arrange the rental of a particular apartment.
The following tips from Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information Page: Rental Listing Scams: 
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. The take-away: when you’re looking for a rental, its caveat renter renter beware.
Hijacked Ads
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. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.
Phantom Rentals

Other rip-off 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.
Signs of a Scam
Being savvy when you’re in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:
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.
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.
They say they’re out of the country
But 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. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.
How to Report Scams
If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC. Contact the website where the ad was posted, too.