How to avoid being a victim of a rental scam in New York city

Photography by Xavier Sotomayor

It’s unfortunate, but rental scams via Craigslist or other rental websites that allows any third-party to post a listing is going to happen.

Last summer, a friend of mine almost get swindled out of $500 to secure an apartment sight unseen because she was out of the country. There were elaborate emails and phone calls back and forth to see the place. We Googled the renter’s name, but nothing came up. Like literally nothing. Plus, this person wanted money wired. Here you have two red flags: A person who doesn’t turn up on Google and they want money wired. Huge red flags. If it doesn’t pass the smell test, it’s a scam.

I know most people feel like it would never happen to them, but I have seen it a dozen times.

Here some tips to avoid being scammed:

  • If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably is. Always. Period. This is New York City and if you heard about the magical rent-controlled apartment that a cousin of a cousin somehow found, be wary. The truth is rent-controlled pricing is not that much better than the market these days. If you hear of something for 25 percent (or more) less than market value, do your due diligence. The likelihood of it being a real place is nil.
  • Never take a place sight unseen. This seems like common sense, but it is really the No. 1 scam out there. You will be sent photos, links, a Facebook profile, a real estate profile and it all could be completely fabricated. Technology scams are increasing because they are so easy to do. Have your radar up and alert around this issue. Never skip seeing an apartment in person.
  • You are asked to give cash. If the sublettor, purported real estate agent or landlord asks for cash to secure the place, take this as a huge red flag. Huge. Check is the way to go if you do not have a signed lease.
  • If you’re subletting, do your due diligence. It is common for people to sublet their apartments for a month, 6 months or a year. If you are subletting, get a copy of their lease and confirm it with the landlord. And make sure the person really is the landlord and not some scammer who is posing as the landlord. Also, people have been known to get bilked out of thousands because the sublettor is behind on their rent and is about to get evicted, or the landlord never OK’d the unit for subletting to begin with.
  • Google everything about it. Google the landlord, Google the real estate agent. Good the sublettor. Google the address. Google parts of the ad you saw on Craigslist. Google everyone involved. Just do it.
  • Craiglist. Generally speaking it has a thousand variations on everything above. A person listing a property will ask for $50-100 for an application fee. They will ask you to wire money to secure it. They could end up showing you a real place that belongs to someone else or it may not exist. Be alert and wary of everything.
  • Fraudulent websites. Just because someone has a website doesn’t mean it’s a real company. There used to be several companies out there who had websites that tried to scam people — Affordable Equity Project and come to mind. Fortunately, they have been shut down but please keep your eyes open as these sites can be created fast and easy. Their hook is they claim to be affiliated with the government and they have a lottery for a few great listings. All you have to do is submit your information with a $25-$100 fee to be reviewed for it (Old rental scam article).

It isn’t only the naive who get swindled, there are very sophisticated con artists in New York City who made it their job to make a listing as authentic as possible and trick savvy people who were nice enough to share their story about how they got scammed. The best way to truly protect yourself is to do all of the tips outlined above. Always find out who owns the building before you sign the lease and check in with them if the unit you saw is truly available. Be certain of their identity and verify their ownership of the apartment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *