Online Rental Scams to Avoid

don't fall prey to a scamSure, we've already discussed how to avoid a Craiglist rental scam. But there are even less obvious ones to be concerned about. You know the ones -- they don't immediately send chills, but seem like a very tempting, rare opportunities.

These are the "lure listings." They will bite you if you aren't careful!

Here are five signs you should step away from the online rental listing:

"I'm Outta the Country Right Now"

The Scam: The bad guys lure you with a listing that sounds like a sure deal. When you ask about it, they send you an e-mail saying they are out of the country and encourage you to wire them the money and they'll arrange for you to pick up the keys with a friend. (Or similar.)

Friendly Advice: Don't rent something sight unseen! Crash with a friend in a new city for a few days while you look. Or entertain the idea of renting someone's air mattress while you apartment hunt, if you're feeling daring.

"Technically, We're Part of Cool Neighborhood X"

The Scam: You're after a certain part of town as much as a certain apartment -- and the baddies know it. They might claim their apartment is "technically" part of the same neighborhood, or worse, not give you an exact address. This trumped-up listing might be trying to capitalize on higher rents in that cool neighborhood, or get you out to some less desirable part of town.

Friendly Advice: "Technically," they might be right. Or more likely they technically are trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of you. A real listing should have a real address that you can verify.

"Let Me Show You Something Nicer"

The Scam: This is a variation on the bait-and-switch. The online listing shows one place, but when you arrive, the broker/landlord/scammer decides to show you "something better." "Better" as in -- it will cost you more too.

Friendly Advice: Unfortunately this is fairly common in competitive markets. Before you agree to go see something nicer, ask the person if it will cost more or will incur a fee. Asking up front will save you embarrassment later. (Because it's your embarrassment if you've committed to something that they're counting on!)

"Must See to Appreciate"

The Scam: Well, this isn't a scam so much as a red flag. If the listing has a terrible or uninspiring photo -- bad sign. A close-up on a bricked-in window? Two photos of the shower drain? That's the best shot they've got to sell you on this apartment? Sheesh.

Friendly Advice: Photos are worth a thousand words. Skip the in-person visit if the photos are terrible.

"This Lease Is Standard. Just Sign It!"

The Scam: Pressure the renter to sign right away, usually by casually glossing over the lease document as "standard." Tricksters will insert all sorts of clauses, costs, fees or rules. Would you like to discover later that although you thought you were signing a lease for one rate, small print indicates that's just the "introductory" rate?

Friendly Advice. The words "standard lease" should put you on alert. It might, in fact, be standard. If so, they won't need to worry that you're taking your sweet time reading every last line before you sign. Don't be quick to fork over deposit money, either.

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