How To Spot & Protect Yourself Against Rental Scams

With rental fraud on the rise, it’s time to arm yourself with the tools to spot and protect yourself against deceitful listings.

Apartment List, a website dedicated to matching renters with the right property, estimates that 5.2 million U.S. renters have lost money due to rental scams.

The company ran a national survey of 1,000 renters to take a look at the impact of rental scams. Apartment List found that just a tick over 43 percent of those renters encountered a fraudulent listing, with over 6 percent of them losing money.

The survey also found that across the board young renters, those between the ages of 19 to 29, were most likely to have encountered a suspicious listing, contact a fraudulent listing, lose money from scam and sign a bogus lease.

As for how much money renters lost, Apartment List learned that 23.5 percent lost under $100, 27.5 percent lost $100-$499, 17.6 lost $500-$1,000 and a staggering 31.4 percent lost more than $1,000.

Apartment Lists also ran local surveys in 30 of the largest metros. Miami, Orlando and Tampa made the list which focused on fake encounters and money lost.

Miami led the way with 25.6 percent of renters encountering a fake listing and 7.9 percent losing money. Orlando was the runner-up with an identical 25.6 percent coming across a scam but 7 percent losing money. Trailing Miami and Orlando was Tampa where 21.7 percent of renters encountered a fraud listing and 6.5 percent losing money.

According to Apartment List, some of the most common rental scams are:

  • Bait-and-Switch: Renter is shown one unit but signs for another.

  • Already Leased: Renter pays collection fees or security deposits on a unit already leased.

  • Hijacked Ads: Fake ads for real properties, usually homes for sale, where the contact info has been altered.

  • Phantom Rentals: Made up listings on places that aren’t real or actually up for rent.

The last one on the list, phantom rentals, is particularly dangerous in Florida where con-artists target vacationers. Trip Savvy shared several tips on how to prevent vacation renters from falling into a scam, but here’s what stood out:

Payment Methods: Always pay with a credit card for the consumer protections they provide. Don’t pay by cash, check or wire transfer, which are all payment methods scammers lean on.

Property and Owner Verification: Trip Savvy recommends renters use Google Maps or similar services to make sure the property actually exists. Renters should also look up the owner or property manager and check if they’re apart of any renter associations.

But if there’s a number one rule to follow, it’s the most cliche: “Is this deal too good to be true?”

Frank Ramaekers III, who rents properties in Virginia Beach, has had his rentals plagued by hijacked ads on Craigslist. He says more often than not that’s what he hears from bamboozled vacationers who show up to his rentals and he has to turn them away.

“They see these reduced prices and then wire the money and the wired money goes to an account somewhere,” he said.

Back in April, ahead of the summer vacation rental rush, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a consumer alert to raise scam awareness. She reiterated the tenants of scam avoidance.

“With many families on spring break or planning summer vacations, this type of scam can be more common,” her statement read. “Renters should be wary of fake rental properties to ensure they are not being scammed and that family vacations are not ruined.”

If you come across a rental scam, contact the Florida attorney general’s office at or call 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM.