First Person: How to Spot a Rental Scam

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I have been helping a friend look for a new apartment online. I found a great apartment, reasonably priced in a nice area. Since I work in real estate and can usually spot a scam, I wasn't too worried about giving out some personal information like the renter's email address and phone number when I replied to the ad. Unfortunately, it was a scam and we've been hounded with emails and text messages ever since. It all could have been avoided if I'd just been more careful when reading the ad. Here are a few ways you can spot a scam.

Rent Prices

Sometimes a deal is just too good to be true. In my case, the rent was comparable to other rentals in the area, so I didn't think it might be a scam, but there are plenty of online ads that aren't so clever. If the rent is cheaper than other apartments in the area, be wary.

Property Descriptions

When I'm looking for an apartment and running short on time, I don't pay as much attention to the written description in the ad as I should, but it is a good way to spot a scam. For example, where I live in New Orleans there are no rental properties with large yards or driveways, but I will see ads for rental houses that claim to have large backyards. I assume those are scams and move on.

When you're reading the description look out for landmarks, or geography that doesn't fit in to the area.

Photos

A real estate agent I work with recently found several rental ads using her photos. The ads went to one address but the photos were for a property at another address. She replied to the ad and received a response asking her to mail a money order to rent the house.

The easiest way to spot a photo scam is to drive past the property before you respond to the ad. If the property matches the photos, you're probably dealing with a legitimate landlord.

Scam ads may seem like just another annoyance when you're looking for a new place to live, but they can be risky. To protect your identity and your finances, never give out more personal information than you have to and never send money through the mail. Always meet the landlord in person and tour the rental before you make a decision.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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