You can’t believe everything you read…..even rental ads! With rents at an all time high and decent rentals scarcer than ever in America’s top cities, it’s understandable that renters might be feeling desperate to find a good deal and fall for one of a growing number of fake “for rent” ads online.

These ads for fictional rentals don’t just dash renters’ hopes and waste their time. Some of these are also big time scams that attempt to steal peoples’ identities or money through a “fee” for a credit check that never occurs, for instance. How can you tell if a rental ad is legit? Some ads can scream to all but the most gullible that they’re hoaxes, others can look fairly legit and fool even the most street-wise renter. But even in these cases, there are ways to tell if a “for rent” ad is fake. Here are some tips to help sort through rental ads and find the red flag scams:

If there is no phone number, move on! Even in our technological world most people will use the phone as a last resort. But rental listings are one place where you will still usually see a phone number listed so you can easily reach a flesh-and-blood person. Most ‘real’ rentals always have a number or a person you can talk to, The biggest warning flag we typically see in fake ads is no phone contact. The post will have an email but not have a number to contact, or the phone number is a fake one.

If the email looks odd or weird, check it out. If you do contact a listing and get an email back that looks nothing like a real name or company,it probably isn’t.  It could be an auto-generated account that makes the sleazy scammer behind it harder to track down.

The biggest red flag is a request for cash up front. So someone responds to your request and is happy to show you the rental, that is, as soon as you send them $75 for a credit check. Anytime they ask for any kind of deposit or fee upfront, sometimes before getting into the property, that is also a sure sign an ad is fake. Also another scam is if the owner is listed as living overseas and needs you to wire funds before you can see the property or mail you the keys. Not!

So be aware of these fake rental ads…they are out there!