“Preventing Rental Scams”

By Nicholas Smith, Consumer Protection Officer

Wow! A 4 bed, 3 bath single family home for rent in “THE” place to be… for only $1,000 dollars a month? With no background or credit check? How soon can I move in?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Rental scammers often use existing online images of properties for sale or rent to create fraudulent listings with deals that seem too good to pass up. The scammers, posing as an agent, landlord, or a friend of the owner, lure prospective tenants into paying a security deposit, application fees, or a few months’ rent before the tenant sees the property in person or receives the keys. Most often, these rental scams are perpetrated entirely online and over the phone. The scammers tend to create a sense of urgency with prospective tenants by offering to send the keys upon receipt of money from the tenants. The victims often don’t realize they have been tricked until they have already paid the scammer. In some cases, multiple people may fall victim to a single fraudulent listing.

Brokers who offer properties for sale or rent online can take steps to help prevent these scams.

  • Signage at the property- Placing signs at the property that indicate that you and your firm are offering the property for sale or lease may alert potential victims who drive by the property that the rental advertisement they saw could be a scam. Always be sure to have the owners’ written consent prior to placing a “for sale” or “for rent” sign.
  • Perform a reverse image search- Many free internet search engines can perform a search using an image only rather than keywords. By using a reverse image search, you may be able to identify a fraudulent listing using the pictures of the property you posted online.
  • Watermark images used in listings- Watermarking involves transposing a faint image over another to prevent the theft or misuse of an image. A watermark indicating the property is “for sale only and not for rent” or “for rent only through ABC Realty” may deter a scammer from using the image. Before using watermarked images advertising a property, be sure to have approval from your principal and broker-in-charge. Additionally, your local MLS may have rules prohibiting watermarked images, so be sure to check with your MLS prior to using them.  

If your listing has been used in a rental scam or you believe you have identified a rental scam listing, consider filing a complaint with the Commission on our website (ncrec.gov) if the offender is licensed, and if the offender is not licensed, with the FBI (www.IC3.gov) and with the NC Department of Justice (ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/).