Rental scams are rampant online, and the current competitive rental market has worsened the situation.

In 2019, I wrote about Zillow Rental Scams, and how one man in New York was arrested for allegedly pretending to be a real estate agent and scamming people out of thousands of dollars.

More recently, I had an old rental listing of mine on a Timonium house used as a scam on Zillow. I found out because someone googled the address and found my name and number (the scammer had spoofed my email address, changing one letter) and called me directly to inquire about the property. I spoke with the owners, and the tenants were still in place, and they were not trying to re-rent the property. That being said, even with every potential tenant contacting me reporting it (as I asked them to do,) the owners reporting it (as they own the house,) and my reporting it multiple times, (as my name and image were being used on the property,) it still took WEEKS for the scam to be removed from the website.

I also had a friend almost victimized by a scam in a different state just a few months ago. Luckily she sent me the “listing” and I searched and said to her that there was NO WAY the monthly rent would be that low, as before the home had been redone, (and the home recently sold,) the rent had been almost double the amount on that listing. The scammer used an agent’s information and likeness, but changed the email address, so if you googled the agent, which my friend had done, you would think the listing was legitimate. My friend gave them more info than I wish she had, but at least I stopped her from filling out an “application” and giving the scammer more financial details and person details to work with.

Here are a few things to look out for when searching for a rental online:

  • If a rental list price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Check multiple sites to see if the house is listed elsewhere – often if you google the address, and the house is actually for sale, you will find the “for sale” listing on google and can contact the listing agent to find out whether the house is also for rent – and how it is being handled.
    • Googling the address is the first step I would recommend before contacting anyone on a rental listing. Check, cross check, triple cross check to ensure this house or apartment is listed in multiple places with the SAME contact information in all places.
  • If the the landlord asks you to wire funds without you seeing the place, do not wire funds right away. Do not wire funds before seeing a house or without personal contact and a fully signed application and potentially a fully signed lease.
    • An additional warning – there are scammers out there who will send you a “lease” and sometimes even a key. That key may not fit the door of the house you think you are renting, and the lease may be invalid or a fake. PLEASE be careful out there.
    • NOTE: If YOU are out of state, ask for a live video tour at the very least so you can see the person enter the house and you can see the inside.
  • Check the owner of the house vs the person who claims to be in contact with you. For Maryland homes, check the SDAT records (here is the link to the SDAT website) to compare names.
    • If the landlord does not live in the state (or the country,) please note that it is not usual for a landlord to ask you to send money and then mail you a key. Usually out of state owners have some sort of local contact or a way to get someone there to meet you if they can’t.

Please make sure to check, double check, and triple check lease listings, compare to other websites, verify identities, and see the home in person to ensure it is a real listing.