How To Spot A Rental Scam On Craigslist In 2021

What a rental scam on craigslist looks like: Imagine you are on the hunt for a new place to rent when you’re scrolling through the internet and check craigslist and find a listing that meet all your requirements. It’s listed as a spacious 2-bedroom ranch with a backyard and move in ready. You call the number, meet with the owner, sign the lease agreement, pay your deposit, get handed the keys and start moving everything inside. While moving in, you are approached by someone who is wondering what you are doing. They explain that they are the owner of the home, and they never gave permission for anyone to move in, in fact the home will be listed for sale soon. At this point, you realize that the supposed owner, that leased the home to you, was in fact a scammer and now took off with your deposit and first/last month’s rent, approximately $1400.

Unfortunately, these types of scams are on the rise in the United States. These scams can be very convincing, a scammer will find a vacant property and rent it out to an unsuspecting victim and leave them out of their deposit and rental. Here in this blog, we examine why these frauds are so popular, what they look like and how to spot a rental scam on craigslist.

Who Is A Target For Rental Frauds?

The United States is short approximately 6.8 million rental homes right now. And for the very low-income renters, who are living below the poverty lines, there are only 37 affordable rentals for every 100 (Statistics from the National Low Income Housing Coalition). Rental shortages have been on the rise in recent news due to the national blow back from the COVID-19 virus. Home prices have been on a severe incline as well as the rental market, making it very difficult for low-income earners to obtain housing.

There are many different types of renters. Some have great credit, some have just gotten over a foreclosure, some have pets, some can afford to put a large deposit, and some can put nothing down. Landlords can dictate the qualifications they require for their rental. Some will go through a property manager, who filter their tenants and have minimum credit qualifications and others will be more than happy to have lease agreement over a handshake. For every landlord, there is a perfect match with a renter.

However, with the housing shortage, the balance between landlords and renters have shifted. There is a surplus of renters and shortage of houses. And if you owned a rental during COVID, you were around for the eviction freeze and may have lost a substantial amount of income due to the large workforce cutback. Though now the economy is correcting itself, you now see that imbalance still present: a large rental demand and landlords with bigger restrictions

Unfortunately, these types of scams affect the most vulnerable: extremely low-income renters. These are renters who wouldn’t be able to obtain housing through an apartment building or an agency who requires a credit check. These are renters who would excuse a property that is vacant, doesn’t meet inspection and in need of repair because it’s all they can afford. They are looking for the landlord on craigslist that would lease their home to someone over a handshake because that is the only ones that would be willing to rent to them.

BEWARE!!! These Types Of Frauds Are Becoming More Sophisticated

There are more reports of properties being shown on craigslist by someone claiming to be a landlord and listing the property. Fraudsters are now arriving to the property, breaking into a side door of a vacant home, changing the locks, and showing the property as their own. It can be convincing when someone meets you at the home and has a key to the front door. Other times, there are official lease agreements for the home and there is a receipt for the deposit. Unattended, vacant homes in low-income areas are especially susceptible to these types of scams.

Signs Of A Rental Scam On Craigslist

#1 Listing Is Too Good To Be True Or It’s Just Not Normal

As Americans in a free market, we are always on the prowl for a good deal and when we see one, we jump on it. However, with shady deals we always must ask, is this too good to be true? Am I being baited to act quickly on this listing?  

With a fraudulent rental scam on craigslist, the showings must be quick before they are discovered and will show a rental listing that would cause anyone on the hunt for a rental to act quickly. This would include: a free month’s rent, amazing amenities, a month free, and a very attractive price.  The opposite is true too, if a listing doesn’t have photos or a specific address, it should cause the red flags to be raised.

#2 Asking For Personal Information

Most long-term housing managers will ask you to fill out an application, which includes a credit check, but be very careful to whom you divulge your personal information. A lot of times, a rental scam on craigslist has the sole purpose to gather your personal information so it can be sold. There is a lot of software available to small landlords to do a background check by a third party without having to directly use the applicant’s personal information.

#3 Owner Is Out Of Town Or Will Not Meet You Face To Face

One of the most popular facades is that the owner is out of town and as a result, they have a offer that is too good to be true because they need it done as quickly as possible. This should be a major red flag for a rental scam on craigslist. Always insist on face-to-face meeting.

#4 They Insist On Cash Only

Everyone likes a cash payment but if they steer clear from accepting any other form a payment it should cause concern. Cash deposits are untraceable and usually a sign of a fraudulent listing. Cash payments creates a untraceable get away from the crime. Keep in mind that most legitimate landlords will not care whether you use a check or other forms of payment.

How To Protect Yourself

#1 Meet The Owner In Person

As a renter you should be weary of anyone doing business out of the country. Not only does this make it easier to scam you but pursuing prosecution for these individuals out of the country can make it near impossible. It is not normal to do business this way as most owners would be interested in who is renting out their home as well.

#2 Check The Owner Of The Home In Public Records

Check out the city’s website for properties, there is a lot of public information available to you. Lot of times the city will show the person or the company that holds the title for that specific residence. Check social media to make sure the person matches up (if available). If that person who you are speaking with doesn’t match that person who shows you the property, then be wary before you put down a deposit.

#3 Meet In A Public Place

With internet sales on the rise, many law enforcement municipalities have created meet up places to exchange goods. This is a great place to meet and sign contracts or hand over a deposit. Not only are these locations a safe place to make exchanges, but they are recorded. This should be no problem for someone who has a legitimate listing. In fact, it can be mutually beneficial. Let them know your concerns and it should be no problem.

#4 Don’t Use Cash

Make sure you write a check or another form of payment that will make sure the person cashing the check will have to show ID. Additionally, make sure the person who you write the check to matches the person who is listed as the owner of the property. If someone seems hesitant before accepting a check, you should insist on it.

#5 Have A Signed Lease Agreement

With newer scams, this is common to have a fraudulent lease agreement but can thwart some scammers. As listed above, make sure the person you are signing the lease with matches the owner of the home.

What To Do If You Fall Victim To A Rental Scam On Craigslist

First and foremost: report it. A lot of people have fallen victim to a rental scam on Craigslist. After these scams, victims feel duped and may be weary of telling law enforcement that they fell for an avoidable scam. But these types of frauds are common and thousands fall victim to them every year. Its always best to report these to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC.

Share Your Story!!

There you have it: how these scams work, who they affect and how you can avoid them. Now I’d like to hear from you! Would you like to share your personal story?? I’ll feature it in this blog. Send me a email at and I’ll get in contact with you.

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