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Rental Scams On Craigslist and 9 Ways to Spot One

9 Ways to Spot a Rental Scam on CraigslistMy brother was moving back to the area.  He recently called me about a rental he found on Craigslist.

Unfortunately, I quickly saw it as just another of many rental scams on Craigslist.

The home my brother emailed me from Craiglist, was a beautiful 2600 sq ft Cape Cod style home built in the last 20 years and listed for $1400 a month.  Market rent was more in the range of $2600. 

And of course, the thought of an exceptional rental deal is enticing.

While my brother and his wife fell in love with the rental home they saw in a Craigslists ad, their gut feeling was that it was too good to be true and had heard about rental scams on Craigslist

Consequently, I quickly confirmed that it was most likely ran across a rental scam.

While looking for Crailists rentals it is easy to fall victim to a rental scam. This article is going to uncover how to spot a rental scam.

Another victim of a Rental Scam On Craigslist

In the past, I have had Craiglist scammers stealing listing photos of a house I have had for sale online to use as a fake rental.  This has happened many times over an 18+ year career as a listing agent

Unfortunately, I am all too aware of rental scams on Craigslist.  Classified sites like Craigslist and Kiiji that provide rentals are ripe for fraud.  There is no policing of the ads.  Scammers find it easy to create fraudulent ads.

One woman actually called me up threatening to sue me because she had turned over a deposit on a short sale I had listed for sale.  Immediately, I explained to her in no way was it me.  The scammer had stolen my listing photos and description and compiled it into a Craigslist ad.

Upon further conversation, she was never even shown the house.  But she was instructed to do a drive by.

Of course she loved the house it was worth far more as a rental that what the scammer had it listed for on Craigslist.  The price was way under market rent and the Craiglist scammer told her if she wanted it she needed to send the deposits by Western Union immediately. 

She was all too willing to everything the scammer asked because it was such a great deal and she was afraid to lose such a great opportunity. 

So many red flags here!

FOX News reports on a home that was for sale being used by a scammer to “rent”.

rental apartment criglist scam


She Is Not Alone In Being Scammed

The angry woman who thought I scammed her is not alone. 

Scams starting with Craiglist rentals are very common. The Better Business Bureau references a survey by Apartment List discussing rental fraud.

The survey sites that 5.2 million renters have lost money from rental fraud and if you are a renter online there is a 43% chance you have run into at least one fraudulent rental listing.

What Is A Craigslist Rental Scam?

Phantom rentals and hijacked ads are the two most common Craiglist rental scams.  The property either doesn’t exist or the scammer does not own the property and has no right to rent it. 

In either case, they try to get you to send a deposit before you ever see the property.  Or they are using th rental ad to steal personal information.

A rental scam can occur anywhere.  But because of a lack of security measures that does not require any verification, Craigslist is a breeding ground for rental scams.

Be wary of some of the other possible rental scams while doing your search for the perfect Massachusetts Rental Home.`

  1. Phantom Rentals: The scammer creates a fake Craigslist ad for a property that doesn’t exist.
  2. Hijacked Ads: A scammer steals a listing and makes it a fraudulent rental listing on Craigslist.  Often they use homes that are for sale, listed by a REALTOR®.
  3. Bait and Switch-  Photos are used for a property that are not the unit being leased.
  4. Missing Amenities:  Desirable amenities are listed that aren’t available for the unit.
  5. Showing a vacant property. Sometimes a scammer will show a vacant property they have broken into to actually show you the property, meet them as a “landlord” and collect a deposit.
  6. Occupied Home: The scammer will try to collect a deposit on a property that exists but is already occupied.  Often they will say there is a current renter occupying the property…. just do a drive-by.


Infographic on 9 wyas to spot a rental scam on craigsslist

How Do You Spot Rental Scams On Craigslist?

There is no one way to identify if a house is a Craiglist’s rental scam.  Be wary of any Craigslist home for rent.

Combine some of the factors I am going to spell out, and you may just have a scammer trying to have you send deposits on a home that is not really for rent. So here is how to spot a scammer on Craigslist and their fake rental ad.

#1 There Are Typo’s And Grammatical Errors In The Rental Listing

Often the Craigslist scammer is from a different country.  The simple fact is if you send the money to someone based overseas it will be impossible to prosecute and get your money back.

Beware, that while it is common for a rental scammer to be overseas it isn’t always the case.  Sometimes the scam is from someone in the US.

The foreign scammer may have poor English skills, creating an ad with poor grammar and typos.

#2 Pay Attention To The Photos

There are several clues to look into with the photos to see if the rental home on Craigslist may be a scam.

The Craiglist rental will often have one photo or none at all.

The photo(s) may also be of a style that doesn’t fit your part of the country.  A sleek, European studio or a home with palm trees is not something you would typically see in the greater Boston rental market.

Rental scammers will run the same photo run 50-100 sites all over the world…. England, Sweden, Australia… all in hopes of a scammer reaching into a victim’s pocket with their fake Craigslist rental ad and other classified sites.

This one is a little trickier.  The photos are potentially stolen from a current or recent home for sale. A potential scammer will steal an entire listing of a home for sale.  They will copy all of the photos and the description as well.  But they will never allow you in to view the home.  If they even give you the real address, it will be for a driveby only.

Before sending a deposit, it could be prudent to run a Google reverse image search on a few of the photos to see if the rental’s photos are showing up elsewhere under different listings.

#3 The Price Is Too Good To Be True

This is what leads renters to have poor judgment regarding a fake Craigslist rental ad.  The price for the property they are advertising is well below fair market value for a monthly rent. 

On the rental listings I have seen that are scams, they are typically 50% of what a landlord could charge for the property.

The rental scammer plays on the emotion and even greed of an unsuspecting renter.  They create a sense of urgency by underpricing their fake rental.   They push hard to get a deposit indicating there is much interest in the Craigslist rental home and you need to act fast if you want it.

And, with many metropolitan markets having a rental shortage, renters don’t want to miss the opportunity for a good deal.  But if a rental ad on Craigslist is too good to be true…. then it is probably a fake ad created by a scammer to get your deposit money.

#4  The Property Is Never Available To View

The scammer will ask you to do a drive-by if the listing has been hijacked from elsewhere.  Or, if it is a phantom rental, urge you to send the deposits immediately to hold the home for you since there has been so much interest.

You will never get into the property.  Either the property doesn’t exist or the scammer has no right to rent the property.  There will always be some sort of story about why your appointment was canceled or why you can’t actually go into the property.

#5  You Will Never Meet The Landlord

They may say upfront they are overseas, deployed in the military are on a humanitarian mission, etc…  For whatever reason, it will be impossible for the landlord to meet you at the property.

They may even string you along and cancel at the last minute.  But they aren’t in this country and they have no intention of meeting you or showing you the rental.

#6  There Is Always A Story With A Craigslist Rental Scam

There is always a story that leads you to believe they are a good person and trustworthy. But, that story always leads to why you can’t meet them or see the property.  

Rental scammers are quite adept at playing with your emotions.  They practice their craft daily.  Don’t think you are not susceptible, proceed with caution.

#7  They Are Too Eager For Your To Send The Deposit

The goal of a rental scam is to part you from your money before having to actually produce a house for rent.

A rental scammer will create such urgency and you will be too scared of losing a great deal.  They will ask for a deposit to hold the rental for you and you may just be willing to do it.

Be wary of a landlord that is eager to put his hands on your money before even seeing the unit.

You should never give a deposit on a rental you have never seen and have an actual contract in hand.  Just don’t do it.

#8  There Is No Screening Process

Having no screening process is a huge red flag.  Most landlords want to know who is living in their home.  A proper rental screening includes pulling a credit score and asking questions about work history, salary and rental history. 

Do not send money before a rental screening, it is quite possible you are part of a Craigslist rental scam. Do not give any personal information, like a social security number prior to any showing of the property.

On another note, the lack of screening process also plays into the renters on the fringe. They may have poor credit, no rental history or bad references.
The lack of a screening process is enticing to these renters.

#9  How Do They Want Their Money

If your future landlord tells you to send by Western Union, mail a Money Order,  send a Moneygram, etc…., they are not on the up and up.

If a landlord can’t accept certified funds or a personal check in person, this is a huge red flag.

5.2 Million people have fallen victim toental scams

How To Avoid Being A Victim Of Rental Fraud When Searching For Craigslist Rentals

Besides visiting a local REALTOR to view rentals in the Multiple listing service, turning to Craigslist is another option that some potential renters use to find affordable rental homes in their area.  Knowing that scams are out there, be aware of the signs of a fraudulent Craigslist rental.

See the property

This is huge.  Everyone I have known, that has been a victim of a rental scam on Craigslist has never seen the property.  Physically inspect the property inside and out.

If the monthly rent is too good to be true, it is!

This is how urgency is created and scammers get renters to make bad decisions.  If the rent is a fraction of fair market, take some time and think about it.

Don’t send money upfront. 

There is a process that most landlords go through before asking for a deposit.   Never send money before seeing the unit, meeting the landlord and going through a rental screening process.

Meet the landlord

Many Craigslist rental homes are private listings. And, there is a process most landlords go through. The landlord should be showing you the property.  If someone other than a landlord, a reputable real estate agent or reputable property manager is showing the property, get a darn good explanation.

Do some research:

    • Know who is signing the lease as the landlord.
    • Check the local registry of deeds and double-check the owner of record.
    • Google the address and see if the home is currently for sale or in foreclosure
    • Do a reverse image search of some of the listing photos to see if they are being used elsewhere.

Never send money. 

Sending money through Western Union, Moneygram or gift cards is sketchy.  Once sent, there is no way to trace the money.  Turn over a certified check in person.

Landlord shows no interest. 

Most landlords want to know about who their new tenant is and will ask a lot of questions to see who you are as a person.  Most landlords will also ask for references.  If they skip these steps ask yourself ….why?

Follow your gut

Again most people who have been part of a rental scam on Craigslist said they felt something was not right.  Follow your instincts.

Ask questions. 

If you’re not feeling something don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to the bottom of it.

Use common sense

Mostly what I have said is common sense.   Unfortunately, the rental market is competitive and emotions can run high.  That is what a scammer wants, a slip in your judgment because you are feeling urgency or even desperation.

Talk to other tenants. 

Maybe you can make a point to talk to the tenants in the parking lot or even neighbors if it is a single-family home. 

Don’t Get Played By A Massachusetts Fraudulent Rental Ad

There are several things in common when it comes to being a victim of a rental scam in Massachusetts.

Competition among renters is fierce.  Many rental units in Massachusetts get dozens of applications from potential renters.  It is easy for emotions to get high and for renters to even feel desperate. 

Good judgment just goes out the window.  It is easy to see the signs of a rental scam on Craigslist here, and say boy I would never do that.  Yet it happens every day! Be very cautious when searching Craigslist rentals.  It can be a great place to find a rental property, but it is also a great place for scammers to steal your money.

Ignoring red flags of a rental scam is easy when you are rushing and emotions are running high.

Step back and slow it down before signing a lease and sending a deposit check if there are some red flags and it isn’t feeling right.  Don’t lose your hard-earned money to a rental scam on Craigslist.

Other Real Estate Resources:

Rental Scam On Craigslist and 9 Ways to Spot One, is provided by Kevin VitaliMaybe buying a home is in your future.  Find out how easy it can be to buy a home.  If you are looking to buy sell or rent a home call Kevin at 978-360-0422.



  • Gabe Sanders
    September 5, 2020

    These scams continue to catch to many unaware folks. This is very good information.

    • Massachusetts Realtor
      October 14, 2020

      Thanks Gabe.

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