Rental scams and how to avoid them
Hunting for an apartment? If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Rental scammers are also on the hunt—for your money and data. Find out what rental scams are and how to avoid them.
6 min read
Central two-bedroom apartment with balcony, fully furnished & renovated, €390 per month incl. utilities. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever spotted a similar rental ad that sounded too good to be true, you’re not alone. Rental listings like this are increasingly frequent these days on many online platforms, and your first impression might be: “This can’t be real.” Well, you should trust your instincts, since most of these listings are rental scams. But what tricks do fraudsters use to lure you into their trap? And how can you protect yourself from this type of online fraud? Find out in our guide to avoiding rental scams!
What are rental scams?
Rental scams are basically fake rental listings. The scammers pose as real estate agents, property owners, or house management companies and post fake ads on platforms like Craigslist or other online classifieds. The criminals are usually after your money or your personal data—although sometimes they also go for the money and data of third parties. They use a range of fake identities, tactics, and scams to lure you into their trap. Here are a few of the most common methods:
1. Fake landlords
One of the most common schemes is when cybercriminals pose as landlords. They create fake listings with pictures they copied from genuine ads, and when they’re contacted by potential renters, they usually claim to live abroad. Seeing the place upfront isn’t possible, but the scammers promise to send the lease agreement and a set of keys by post once the first month’s rent and deposit have been transferred. If the victims send the money, they never hear from the fraudsters again—and find themselves with neither an apartment nor their money.
2. Fake real estate agents
Unlike fake landlords, fake real estate agents offer flats that actually exist. First, the scammers rent a holiday home, take beautiful pictures, and then place ads on housing platforms. They even invite potential renters to a private viewing and—if the prospective tenants express interest—send a confirmation email shortly after, requesting an immediate response as well as the deposit or other payments. If the applicants confirm the offer and transfer the money, it’s already too late. They probably won’t see their money, the apartment, or the fake real estate agents ever again.
3. Data theft
The first two rental scams in this list are schemes where fraudsters go after their victims’ money. In this scheme, though, they try to get something else: personal data. Just like the fake landlord tactic, criminals create rental ads with stolen pictures and fake details, and then ask applicants to share all kinds of personal data. They receive copies of IDs, bank details, email addresses, phone numbers, work contracts, and other sensitive data—with almost no effort on their part! Once applicants send the requested information, communication grinds to a halt. Meanwhile, the fraudsters use the details to create other (online) scams—and sometimes even to steal money from their victims.
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How to spot rental scams
To avoid getting scammed, the number one rule to follow is: If something appears too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. However, there are other rental scam red flags that you should definitely look out for when looking for an apartment. These are:
- Perfect pictures: So, the rental ad pictures look a bit too perfect—more like an elegant, high-priced city hotel rather than a furnished apartment? This should set alarm bells ringing for you! Most likely, the pictures were stolen from a brochure or a genuine ad. Use reverse image search on Google to see if the pictures are from somewhere else.
- Mismatched photos: You can see three bedrooms in the pictures but the floor plan only shows two? And doesn’t it seem strange that a one-bedroom apartment comes with two kitchens? Mismatched photos like these are definitely a warning sign.
- Too good a deal: Low rent, perfect location, high-end furnishings? If you think you’ve found your dream apartment and can hardly believe your luck that it’s so cheap, you can be pretty sure it isn’t luck—it’s a rental scam.
- Typos in the description: Unlike real landlords and housing companies, fraudsters aren’t very thorough when it comes to proofreading their rental ads. If they don’t speak the local language, they often use online translation tools like Google Translate—so look out for major typos and grammatical errors.
- Viewing isn’t possible: Scammers often pretend they are away for business or other reasons and therefore can’t offer a viewing. If you can’t see the place for yourself before signing the papers, that’s a definite red flag.
- Up-front payment only: If someone asks you to make a down-payment for the deposit, rent, or postage money for sending the keys, it’s a clear sign of a rental scam.
- Request for personal data: Be extremely careful if real estate agents request various copies of official documents like your ID, details of your current employer, or other sensitive information. The fraudsters might attempt to steal your data.
- Suspicious contact and bank details: Does the email address of your contact person look suspicious, maybe because it has a foreign domain name? Or are you supposed to wire the deposit via an international payment service? Be very careful—these can be signs of a scam.
- Time pressure: If a real estate agent puts pressure on you to move quickly after approving your application and even asks you to pay the deposit immediately via bank transfer or in cash, you should be extremely careful.
- Communicating in different languages: You’re apartment hunting in Germany and practicing your best German, but suddenly a prospective landlord responds in English? This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but constantly switching languages might indicate it’s a rental scam.
How to report rental scams and fake listings
If you spot a suspicious rental listing or believe you’ve been a victim of a rental scam or data theft, you should report it immediately. You can report suspicious rental ads directly to the platform they were posted on—many websites even include a report button or similar features on the same page as the ad. If you think you stepped into a rental scammer’s trap, you should contact the police immediately and notify the platform where you found the ad. If you issued a payment via debit or credit card or agreed to pay via direct debit, contact your bank as soon as possible. The support team can help you through the chargeback process to try to get your money back.
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At N26, security is our top priority, and all N26 bank accounts come with a range of security features. Thanks to 3D Secure by Mastercard, your online purchases are protected with two-step authentication, and logging in to your N26 app on your smartphone is secure thanks to biometric authentication—simply choose between face recognition or fingerprint ID.
You can find many helpful guides on security and how to avoid scams on our blog. Discover how to protect yourself from internet fraud, read our tips for secure online banking, and learn how to recognize phishing attacks.
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