Spotting Fake Apartment Ads on Craigslist

The rental market in New York City is one of the most competitive markets in the world. There are fewer apartments on the market at any given time than the vast number of people who are looking to rent one. This has made websites like Craigslist a breeding ground for fraud. These fake listings are so pervasive; it is likely that 90% of the ads you click on aren’t real.

However, it’s not just the bait and switch ads brokers post that you have to watch out for. There are professional criminals posting apartment ads everyday, making an already difficult process even more disconcerting.

So, the question is: how do you spot these scams? The following are a few things to watch for.

Does the rent seem extremely low?

Does the landlord tell you he or she lives in another country?

Look on the bottom of the ad and see who listed it. If it says: Management Company, Owner’s rep, a series of commas, or anything you cannot put into a search engine and pull up results – this is a red flag. Ads like these are posted by brokers looking to pull a bait and switch, or con artists looking to scam you – so pass on these.

Look for the phone #. If you see a picture with a phone number and it is not actually a written part of the ad, pass on this ad. This is a scam.

When replying via email, does the email have typos or poor grammar? Does something seem off? If so, pass on this apartment. This is a scam.

If you see an apartment and a small landlord owns it, ask to see their ID. Write down their information. There have been cases where someone “rents” an apartment to multiple people. These people collect rent and security deposits from as many people as they can and then disappear with tens of thousands of dollars. To ensure the person you rent from is legit, run a search on their name with the word “scam” attached to it, run a search on their phone #, run a search on their address. If this person has had any previous scams or has duped a renter in the past, chances are you might come across some information that will save you a ton of headaches and the loss of your money.

If you have contacted the legal landlord or the management company of a real apartment and you receive a phone call from a broker claiming you owe them a commission, call the owner and management company immediately. DO NOT sign anything with the broker who calls you “out of nowhere.” If the landlord or management company tells you they have an “exclusive with this broker” and you really do not want to pay a broker fee, then pass on this apartment. If the landlord or management company didn’t disclose this information to you in the first place, this isn’t the type of landlord you want to rent from.

Take a close look at the photo and when calling for an appointment, always ask if this is the exact photo of the apartment. And then ask when the picture was taken. Even landlords and management companies will post old stock photos taken when the apartment was newly renovated.

In the current economy, if you are looking to rent a condo or coop, ask the owner of the apartment for proof that they are not in arrears on their mortgage. If they do not want to share that information with you, pass on the apartment. No matter how good the deal may be, it is not worth having to move again because the person might go into foreclosure.

Brokers have earned a bad reputation. But they’re not the only ones you have to watch out for. So before handing over any of your money to anyone, it is up to you to do a little research.

Finding an apartment is a stressful and challenging experience, but if you’re on your toes you’ll succeed in renting an one without the hassle of dealing with a con artist.