Fast-Growing Rental Scam Targets a New, Gullible Population

Just when you think there is no way that anyone that you know might send a money order to a post office box with first and last months’ rent and a deposit because everyone knows that’s a scam, a new group of susceptible individuals enters the scene. That’s right: rental scammers are now taking aim at college students using calls, texts, and emails promising incredible housing opportunities that are far, far too good to be true. And the college kids are biting.

According to Better Business Bureau regional director for Springfield, Missouri, Stephanie Garland, students are particularly susceptible to this type of scam because they are trying to set up their housing from another area of the country and are perfectly comfortable doing so online. “They are going to have these online ads that are going to say, ‘beautiful homes, low rental places, great amenities.’ But of course, everything is going to be online. They’re going to be too good to be true,” Garland explained.

When the students pay their deposits online, they receive paperwork and other information about their future residences. Unfortunately, when they arrive for school, ready to move in, they discover either that the property never existed in the first place or that it is actually inhabited by someone else who, in most cases, had no idea their property was being used as bait. The deposit, of course, is long gone.

Unfortunately, these scams are not restricted to relatively unregulated classifieds websites like Craigslist, either. Students report seeing listings on Zillow and Trulia as well.

Washington D.C. attorney general Karl Racine had a few words of warning for college students heading back into town and considering taking the risk on “affordable housing” in the area that seems too good to be true. “Places where young folks are flocking to, where there’s an absence of affordable housing, that’s a fraudster’s dream,” he said. Racine added his office believes more than 40 percent of renters encounter these listings, and encouraged all people seeking housing in the area to resist if an online landlord or property manager pressures you to speed up the process, asks for personal or financial information in exchange for “holding” the property, or asks you to wire money instead of using a credit card, which provides protection in the event of fraudulent activity.

Have you encountered this type of rental scam? Do you know anyone who became a victim?


  • Bryan Ellis says:

    I have two children in college right now. Fortunately, neither have been victimized by this scam. But I’ve got to admit… I can totally see why this would work. When you combine the absolute lack of life experience with the overwhelming (and utterly misplaced) confidence of college-aged students along with the long-distance nature of these transactions… seems like a perfect opportunity for hucksters.

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