Don’t let desperation over rising apartment rents drive you to hand over money to a scammer.

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If you’re searching for an apartment or rental home, chances are you’ve encountered sticker shock at how much rents have increased since the last time you rented. Or maybe you’re looking for your first apartment and can’t imagine paying more for rent than for all your other monthly expenses combined.

It’s not just your imagination that rental rates seem crazy high. For the first time ever, the typical asking rent nationally rose above $2,000 a month, according to real estate website Redfin. Some markets are hit harder than others.

For example, since 2019, rents increased by 48 percent in Austin, Texas, according to Redfin. Rents also shot up by 32 percent in Nashville, Cincinnati and Seattle and nearly 30 percent in Miami, Florida since 2019. Those high rental rates can make renting difficult or even impossible for many people.

With housing desperation at a high, rental scammers have risen to the occasion, advertising sweet, often too-good-to-be-true deals on apartments and homes for rent. But you don’t have to get tricked out of your money or personal information that could be used for identity theft just because you think you finally found an affordable place to rent.

Here are four rental scams and how to avoid them.

1. Cloned or hijacked ads

It’s easy for rental scammers to copy and paste a rental ad posted by a legitimate landlord, according to Trulia, a home and rental website. Then the scammer lists the property at a much lower rent in order to lure as many victims as possible.

This scam is aimed mainly at out-of-town renters who aren’t able to see the apartment in person before moving. In tight housing markets, potential renters may be willing to pay a couple months’ rent and/or a high security deposit without seeing the property to snag the “good deal.”

Trulia recommends searching for the address online to find out if other rental ads exist for the same property. You may very well  find the legitimate listing, going for a much higher rent.

Find out: How to Identify a Tax Debt Relief Scam

2. Phantom rentals

Some scammers don’t bother cloning ads. They simply make up a fantastic deal on a great rental property that doesn’t even exist, warns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Then the criminal inserts an enticing image of a beautiful apartment or home that just about anyone would jump at renting.

Don’t be too eager to rent the space, though. That scammer isn’t looking for a tenant, only for someone to dupe out of their hard-earned money. “Their goal is to get your money before you find out,” says the FTC.

Find out: Don’t Get Burned by These 3 Hot Scams of 2022

3. Requests to wire money

If a “landlord” asks you to wire money to secure an apartment, slam the door on that deal and don’t look back. “This is the surest sign of a scam,” warns the FTC. Once you wire money, you can’t get it back, just like if you’d sent cash.

Find out: 7 Signs of a Debt Settlement Scam

4. Landlords claiming to be “out of the country”

If the person you contact about a rental ad claims to be overseas in the military, on a church missionary stent or for another reason, that’s not a rental property you want to pursue, says the FTC. If the landlord can’t show you the apartment or home with a lease for you to sign, keep on looking. It’s probably a scam.

Find out: 11 Easy Ways to Spot a Get Out of Debt Scam

How to report a rental scam

If you were scammed by a fake landlord or phony rental ad or think someone tried to scam you, contact your local law enforcement agency to report the scam. Also report the fraud to the FTC. If the ad was posted on a website, make sure you also report the scammer to that site to keep others from becoming rental scam victims.

Find out: The Top Scams That Target Senior Citizens

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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