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Real Estate Rental Scams Are Surging: How To Spot and Avoid Them

If you ever see a listing with images that have the MLS watermark on it, then know that there's something fishy.
 A "for rent" sign is posted in front of a home  | Getty Images | Joe Raedle
A "for rent" sign is posted in front of a home | Getty Images | Joe Raedle

Almost every sector has been targeted by scammers in the past, and the real estate industry is no exception. With the surge of rental searches online, it's hardly a surprise that con artists are looking to pull bait-and-switch operations in this space. 

"The last text I got was at 9:30 a.m. saying, 'Okay, I'll see you at 10 o'clock to sign the documentation'," Kimberly Causey told WFMY News.

What happened with Causey is something that has become more common than you may think. Causey was assured by the so-called owner that they would be present at the time of her moving in. Causey was even asked to pay $150 extra for this service.

Getty Images | Joe Raedle

However, when Causey showed up to move in, she found out that she had been conned.

"And when we got there, they had a little ring doorbell or whatever. We talked to the owners, and they said they'd been there exactly a month. And it was the week after I gave my security deposit," said Causey.

She had reportedly paid the scammers $4,700 and the family that was already living there had no idea that the place was open for rental.


"Always go and check the real estate records. See who owns that property. You can even try to find that phone number independently and call. 'Are you listing your house for rent? Do you have somebody listing your house for rent for you?" said Julie Wheeler, President and CEO, of BBB Serving Western Virginia.

Several red flags can help you to recognize these scams and the biggest warning in this case was not seeing a sign on the actual property.

There are also other warning signs that one should be careful about. For example, if you ever see a listing with images that have the MLS watermark on it, then know that there's something fishy about the listing. Scammers mostly pull photos illegally from another listing service where properties are listed for sale, via US News. When the photo carries the watermark, it means that the scammer does not have access to the original photo. Also look for detailed listings while hunting for properties, as vague listings often tell that the person who has penned the listing has never really been to the house in person.


Sometimes simply thinking as the owner of the house may help you recognise the fishy listings. You see, most people would like to exercise due diligence before fixing the deal. So, if the owner looks ready to give the property for rent without any questions then there's a good chance that it's not a legit deal.

Apart from this, one major red flag that is common across all kinds of scams is creating a sense of fake urgency. Scammers always try to rush you into making a decision. This is mostly because the scammers know that they are talking to sound adults and they don't want them to have a chance to check out their claims. Also, scammers mostly offer lucrative deals so people fall for it. Therefore, it's important to remember that when you get the feeling that something is too good to be true, it probably is.