The Top Craigslist Housing Scams
Craigslist is a popular website for finding rental properties, but it is also a common source of rental scams. Rental scams are fraudulent schemes in which the person posting the rental listing is not the actual owner of the property and is attempting to steal money or personal information from potential renters. Because of the safety features of the site, Craigslist rental scams are common and can be very difficult to spot. Criminals have devised many different ways of scamming renters out of their money.
Finding Housing on Craigslist
Craigslist is a popular platform for finding housing because it offers a wide range of listings for rental properties, including apartments, houses, and rooms for rent. Additionally, Craigslist is easy to use and allows users to search for properties by location, price, and other relevant criteria. This makes it easy for individuals to find rental properties that meet their needs and preferences. And best of all, it's free for both the renter and the owner.
Craigslist is also a good option for finding housing because it allows users to directly contact landlords or property managers, which can make the rental process more efficient and streamlined. This allows potential renters to ask questions and learn more about the property before making a decision. This level of control also opens it up to an extreme number of scammers.
Common scams include:
Fake Landlord Scams
In the fake landlord scam, scammers pose as the owner or manager of a rental property. They may even showing you the home, but it isn’t really theirs to rent out. In this type of scam, the person posting the rental listing is not the actual owner of the property and has no authority to rent it out. They will often ask for a deposit or other upfront payment and then disappear with the money, leaving the renter without a place to live. Sometimes the renter being scammed even moves in and real owners come knocking!
There are a few ways people can pull this off.
Rental lockboxes are secure containers that hold a key to a rental property, such as an apartment or house. They are typically installed on the front door of the property and are accessed using a code or key. Rental lockboxes are commonly used by landlords or property managers to allow potential renters to view the property without the need for a physical key.
When scammers get access to the rental box, they can use it to let renters in, perform tours, and ultimately "rent" out the unit. Here's a sad example of this scam. Usually scammers try to rent the same property out as many times as they can when they have lockbox access, so they price it well below market.
Vacation rental properties
Vacation rental properties are properties that are rented out to travelers for short-term stays (think Airbnb). Vacation rental properties can include a wide range of properties, include homes that could seem for rent. Scammers rent properties as vacation rentals, and then can provide live tours and pretend to rent the property. This is another tricky one to catch but is another reason why you need to research as much as you can about the property prior.
Real criminal activity
Sometimes a scammer will show a vacant property they have broken into or stolen keys directly from the landlord. This one is a little bit rarer, but often happens when owners are on vacation or careless about locking their doors. As a result, the scammer unlawfully gains access to the house to show rental prospects.
Fake Listing Scams
In this scam, the scammer creates a fake rental listing with false information and pictures, and tries to set the renter up for a deposit or rental payment before the seeing the property or signing a lease.
Often, the property is advertised as available, but the owner is "out of town" or "in the hospital." In this type of scam, the scammer advertises a rental property that is supposedly available for rent, but the owner is unable to show the property in person. The scammer tries to collect a deposit or other upfront fees without the potential renter ever seeing the property in person.
Generally, the property is advertised for rent at a significantly lower price than similar properties in the area. This is a common scam in which the scammer advertises a rental property at a significantly lower price than similar properties. The goal is to entice more potential renters with the low price. In doing so, scammers usually take advantage of out of state folks that are not available to tour, or desperate people that need to find an affordable place to live.
The property could be a real one that is "hijacked," such as a home that is actually for sale or for rent. Or it could be a totally fake property and never need to stage any showings. A scammer may use fake pictures and fake details to make the property seem legitimate. The goal is to collect a deposit or other upfront fees from potential renters without ever having to provide a rental property.
Identity Theft Scams
In this type of scam, the person posting the rental listing is attempting to steal personal information from potential renters. They may ask for sensitive information, such as a social security number or bank account details, in order to "process" the rental application. The scammer hopes that you will give them important personal information like bank account number, a social security number, or something else. After getting this info, they disappear.
This can also happen if a real landlord’s email has been compromised.
Bait and Switch Scams
In the bait and switch scam, where the scammer advertises a property for rent at an attractive price, but when the potential renter shows interest, they are told the property is no longer available and are offered a different, often more expensive, property instead. Photos are used for a property that are not the unit being leased.
While this is a tough scam to fall for, it's an annoying one to be caught up in. In this type of scam, the person posting the rental listing will use a low rent price or other attractive features to lure potential renters, but when the renter arrives to view the property, they are shown a different, often inferior, property and are pressured to rent it on the spot.
Not all scams target renters. Some target landlords. In the reverse scam, prospective renters overpay the landlord by accident, and ask for the landlord to send a portion of it back. However, the payment from the renter is a check or a money order that will surely not be able to be cashed, and so if the landlord sends any money at all, he or she will be out of luck to the scammer.
Tips to detect scams
- Always check the property's address on search sites, and if you can, research the owner.
- If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers want to attract you with amazing amenities, luxurious homes, and great deals.
- If the landlord makes the rental too easy, then you should be careful. Be on the lookout when there is no renter screening.
- Look out if you are asked to pay money to an unprofessional email account, or directly over methods like Venmo or Zelle.
- Sometimes, scammers create fake brokerage entities. Be warned.
- When you tour, make sure to double check the landlord's id. This is an easy way to fact check.
- 100% tour if you can. If the owner is never able to tour, run!
What about Facebook?
At Housing Rocket, we moderate 500+ Facebook groups actively to remove all scammers. Creating a safe space to find housing is our goal. On Facebook, users have real identities, profile history, and a reputation to manage. We think it's a safer spot to find some of the harder to rent listings, and is great to use to pair with roommates or find a sublease.
To avoid falling victim to these scams, it's important to be cautious when looking for a rental property on Craigslist and to never give out personal information or make upfront payments without thoroughly researching the listing and the landlord. Good luck on your home search and stay diligent! If you want to be really careful, make sure to check out Lighthouse, and our team can guide you through you search.