11 Subtle Ways to Spot a Craigslist Apartment Rental Scam

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Craigslist is a great site — I've used it to find everything from like-new couches to the beautiful apartment I currently live in. However, it's one of the most scam-heavy resources out there. As my husband and I recently began exploring finding a new home to rent, I started to notice a new breed of scam popping up. In the past, Craigslist scams seemed easy to spot: a home priced way below market, a direct link to apply without seeing, only a few photos, a description that didn't make a lot of sense. But I've recently been coming across Craigslist apartment scams that have more subtle markers. If a listing seems too good to be true, take the following into consideration:

1. The price is just a smidge under-market, but not so low that it seems like a glaring error.

I've seen a number of standalone homes offered at around $3,500 in Los Angeles recently. Yes, that is a lot of money, but it's a demanding market and usually a really well-designed home (depending on location) will go for $4,000 or more. With Coronavirus, it might seem plausible that landlords are more desperate to find renters, but don't be so quick to jump on this thought-train. In most parts of the country, rental prices have only dipped slightly (or not at all), yet scammers seem to be preying on people who might actually believe rental prices have decreased.

2. The listing is being offered furnished.

Yet the poster seems to be looking for someone longterm. If you then ask how much they want for it as an unfurnished rental, and they knock off $500 or more, making the monthly cost even more of an unbelievable steal ... don't fall for it.

3. "All utilities included."

This seems to be another way to incentivize prospective renters into believing the post is a stellar deal. Seasoned landlords generally don't pay for your WiFi.

4. The description includes odd details but omits others.

I've seen some descriptions that are trying to sell you hard on how beautiful a home is or how amazing the area is. On a recent listing, the description sounded more like it belonged on a short-term/Airbnb listing, as it explained how the house was a short drive to Disneyland and the Hollywood Bowl (very touristy things). Yet it failed to mention anything about availability of a dishwasher, washer/dryer, or air conditioning.

5. They want you to fill out an application before viewing.

I know that in these pandemic times, this move is potentially becoming more commonplace, however, if you feel a listing is already fishy and they don't want to give you a socially distanced tour, it would make me wary to give anyone your info.

6. You come to the listing via a weird keyword.

The last two scams I came across, I found them simply by searching "house," and yet when I searched for the area and price range, they didn't come up. In fact, I noticed the location on the sketchy listings was buried at the end of the title description. My thinking is maybe this is a tactic to delay the post getting "flagged" immediately.

7. They ask for your phone number and email ... even though you've been emailing.

This is the weird part. In the past, I've seen Craigslist scams where they clearly want you to fill out a phony application either for stealing your personal info or paying a fake application fee. Recently, however, I've gotten scammers emailing back just asking for my email (like, hello I emailed you?) and my phone number. I've given this info out (I mean, I give my email/phone number to pretty much every internet site I use these days) ... and nothing comes of it. I don't get the end game. (If you know the goal of this scam, please let me know!)

8. The pics are VERY styled: The photography looks professional, you don't see personal items in the photos, or there's little clutter.

A sneaky move of Craigslist scammers is to take pics of recently sold properties and repost them. After all, a real estate listing also gives them all the info they need to "provide" about a property. This can be tricky, because you could totally think, "Okay, but what if the people who bought this house actually purchased it as an income property and their goal was to rent it anyhow?" Ehhhhh ...

9. It's not listed on other apartment listing websites.

This isn't a fail-proof way to reveal a scam, but ... try searching the address (if provided). Hopefully, if it's legit, you'd also see the apartment listed on Zillow or other apartment-finder websites.

10. It looks occupied in real life.

If you live close by, it's worth taking a drive to the property if the full address is listed. On one recent scam, the listing mentioned that the place was available for immediate move-in, but when we drove by we saw patio furniture, two strollers on the porch, and a minivan in the driveway. Didn't seem empty in the slightest. (Also sketchy: If you inquire about a listing and they send you back crazy detailed instructions, including a very stern "DO NOT BOTHER CURRENT OCCUPANTS.")

11. The posting's instructions are contradictory.

Another weird detail that has occurred on scam postings: It will say "call or text [insert name]" but then provide no phone number.

Leonora Epstein is Hunker's Senior Director of Content. She has previously served as Executive Editor at HelloGiggles and as BuzzFeed's Deputy Editorial Director. She is the co-author of "X vs. Y: A Culture War, a Love Story" (Abrams, 2014). Feel free to reach out at leonora@hunker.com.

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