Searching for an apartment can be a stressful thing to take on, especially if you’re pressed for time. With a move-out deadline approaching, some people don’t do their due diligence and unfortunately fall into apartment listing scams.
One of the more popular scams out there involves online rental sites that promote free information about finding an apartment, only to charge people for it. The Federal Trade Commission says that was the case for one company, Apartment Hunters Inc.
Apartment hunting? Here’s how to make sure you don’t get ripped off
According to the FTC, Apartment Hunters Inc. operated several rental listing websites, including WeTakeSection8.com, ApartmentHunterz.com, and FeaturedRentals.com. The websites all promised quick and easy listings that were accurate and up to date. The thing is, it was all a lie.
Once prospective apartment seekers clicked through Apartment Hunters sites, they were ferried down rabbit hole that came to an end on a webpage asking for a $50 fee.
As you might imagine, many people fell for it. The FTC says one site, WeTakeSection8.com, targeted low-income families and even the disabled, siphoning untold amounts of money from them.
The way to avoid such apartment listing scams is to be aware of the tactics employed by the various bad actors out there.
Here’s how to protect yourself from apartment listing scams
- Enlist help from HUD: The FTC says: “The U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) has a list of approved housing counseling agencies that can help you find subsidized rental housing in your area.”
- Google the apartment’s location: If you find an apartment listing online, make sure it exists in the real world. Scammers are creating “phantom rentals” to try to pry your money from you. The FTC says: “Rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.”
- Never wire money: Some apartment listing sites ask you to wire money to pay the security deposit or reserve the apartment. Don’t do it. The best way to pay is via traceable money, like a credit card or cashier’s check. Obviously you wouldn’t want to pay with cash, either. The FTC says if a landlord asks you to pay via wire transfer, “This is the surest sign of a scam.”