How to Avoid Rental Scams

6 Steps to Protect Yourself from Scams

 1) 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. If you choose to use other platforms, make sure to do your research with the additional steps below.

2) Know average rental costs. Unusually low rent is a potential sign of a scam. View Boston rental cost by neighborhood.

3) Confirm the apartment exists! See the apartment in-person, send a proxy, or do a live virtual tour. Scammers will avoid tours as they do not have a property that they will be able to show. Also, use the helpful links below to also confirm the apartments is real.

4) 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. The links below also can help verify a realtors license. Do not share personal information with any parties until you are verified that they exist and are who you are talking to.

5) Details matter! Inquire about fees, due dates, contact information, and the application process. Scammers will often focus on getting your money and will lack many details of the process or not have an application process at all! Make sure to get everything in writing and use our Lease Genius page to double check the lease. The term “refundable” is almost never included in any part of the process. The only fee that is refundable is a deposit, should your rental application be denied.

6) Never wire money or use cash 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, MoneyGram, etc. Use methods that can be tracked and protected. The most common and safest form of money transfer for deposits is a bank.

Helpful Links

Boston Property Assessment will verify if the address you are looking at exists and who it is owned by. If you find an apartment that does not appear on any maps, this is the site to use to verify it. It will also show the person who owns the property!

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 “Safer, Smarter Renting”. This service provides off-campus students/parents the opportunity to instantly, confidentially see/screen a prospective landlord’s background (authorization not required) before they apply or disclose any information as a safety precaution to guard against rental scams and unlawful landlords. Our comprehensive easy to read report empowers the renter with the information they need to make a well-informed decision. Northeastern students receive a 40% discount on our “Know it all” report using code “nesmart40”.

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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