How to Avoid Rental Scams

Internet web sites and other third party rental resources are great for searching for roommates, apartments, and subletting. However, this is no guarantee they are free from scams. Be cautious when completing transactions with prospective roommates, tenants, landlords, and rental agents.

What can you do to avoid scams? Know common scam techniques and how to identify a scam to avoid becoming a victim. We share best practices below so you can keep your apartment search safe!

During Your Search

 You should do the following:

    • Use the Northeastern’s Off-Campus Housing Database to find reputable listings from licensed realtors and local property owners. Not only will you save time, but you will be viewing listings from registered users and reputable companies near campus. 
    • Know average rental costs. Unusually low rent is a potential sign of a scam. View Boston rental cost by neighborhood.
    • Confirm the apartment exists! See an apartment in-person or send someone to view it for you. You could also schedule a live walk-through on a video call. Scam listings will avoid showing you the apartment.
    • Inquire about fees, due dates, and the application process. Scammers often don’t have an application process and focus on getting you to send money right away. If there isn’t an application process, it is likely a scam. 
    • Research your realtor and the property. You can look up realtors by their name and license number here. Use the City of Boston’s public RentSmart data site to view the property owner’s name and find any past issues with the building. If the rental unit doesn’t exist or if the name of the owner doesn’t match your landlord, you may need to take additional steps to verify the listing.
    • Confirm the realtor office location, phone number, and email and that they are in working order. These should also match the contact info that you have been using to get in touch with the realtor/broker. 

You should NOT do the following:

  • Never wire money as a deposit or payment for the first and last month’s rent. Wiring money is the same as giving cash; you can’t get a refund, even if you find out the offer was a fraud. Avoid using Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. You should be given time to view and apartment, review a lease, and ask questions.
  • Never make payments in the form of cash. Use a credit card or bank check that can be tracked. Many credit cards offer fraud protection.
  • Don’t rent a property that you are unable to see. Any realtor or owner will allow you to see an apartment.
  • Don’t share personal information (social security numbers, visa documents, etc.) until you verify the listing exists and you can verify the identity of the person to whom you are speaking.

Before You Sign a Lease

Understand the lease before you sign it. Do not sign a lease unless you have fully read and understood it.

  • Request a copy of the application and lease (with addendum) for review. Do not complete the application or pay an application fee until you have seen and agree to the lease, all addenda, and applications clauses.
  • Use our Lease Genius Checklist to review your lease! If you do not agree to a certain clause in the lease, you can ask for it to be removed or revised. If your landlord is not willing to negotiate, you may want to consider a different apartment.
  • Read carefully. When reviewing your lease, be mindful of incomplete language, grammatical, or punctuation errors. This is often the sign of a scam.
  • Watch out for these words! The term “refundable” is almost never included in a lease. The only fee that is refundable is a deposit, should your rental application be denied.
  • All promises should be in writing. Make sure everything is clearly stated in the lease contract.

Know this!

Use the following tips when searching for an apartment: 

  • Be scam savvy! Learn the basics of how rental listing scams work.
  • Research on the owner, real estate management company, and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam. Read reviews and check the Better Business Bureau for the company’s rating. 
  • Google search the address of the apartment! If you find the listing on other real estate websites, or notice that the home you want to rent is also listed in another city, the online listing could be fraudulent.  A scammer could have copied the photo or description of another rental to use in their ad. 
  • Read through the entire lease before signing. You may find incomplete language, poor grammar, etc. that could indicate a fake contract and listing. 

  • Always get the terms of your rental in writing, including fees, rent, and maintenance.
  • Get a copy of the lease, signed by both you and the property owner/manager

Be a Smarter Renter

Have a peace of mind while searching for your next off campus apartment with the resources below.

RentSmart Boston is a free resource that compiles data from BOS:311 and the City’s Inspectional Services Division to give prospective tenants a more complete picture of the apartments they are considering renting. The tool prompts users for an address and generates a report to assist prospective tenants in understanding any previous issues with the property. 

Find out if your apartment is a “Problem Property”. The City of Boston maintains a list of problem properties which you can view here.  A property stays on the list until its owner addresses the outstanding issues.

MySmart Renter is a paid resource that provides a comprehensive background report on owners, landlords and property managers of any property you’re considering leasing/renting. Give yourself peace of mind at a fraction of what you could potentially lose in a scam or dealing with a negligent landlord.

The Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons licenses qualified individuals, businesses, and schools who meet the requirements to engage in the practice of real estate brokering and sales in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Board also protects consumers by investigating and disciplining licensee who violate the laws and regulations governing the practice of real estate brokering and sales. Follow the link to verify a realtor license.

Reporting Scams

  1. Get guidance from Northeastern. Contact Northastern University Police Department’s non-emergency line (617-373-2121) and Off Campus Engagement and Support (617-373-8480) to let us know you have experienced a rental scam. 
  2. Report the scam to your state consumer protection office. If you lost money or other possessions in a scam, report it to your local police too.
  3. Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). FTC is the main agency that collects scam reports. Report the scam to the FTC online, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357 (9:00 AM – 8:00 PM, ET). The FTC accepts complaints about most scams.
  4. Report fake websites, emails, malware, and other internet scams to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Some online scams start outside the United States. If you have been affected by an international scam, report it through econsumer.gov. Your report helps international consumer protection offices spot trends and prevent scams.
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