Identify a fake real estate ad

Last updated: July 24, 2023

You're about to sign a lease for a new rental, but something seems strange. The apartment seems too perfect for the price listed. Still, the images in the announcement are spectacular, but the details seem vague.

Suddenly, you are asking yourself two essential questions: How can you be sure that this rental ad is reliable?

Faced with this dilemma, this guide presents itself as a beacon in the fog. First, it will help you identify thesigns of a reliable rental ad. Thereafter, he will give you the necessary tools to avoid potential scams.

How do real estate rental scams work?

To effectively protect yourself against rental scams, it is first and foremost essential to understand how they work.

Scammers, in fact, often exploit the urgency and desperation of people actively looking for accommodation.

Therefore, they carry out complex schemes to make you believe that they are owners or legit real estate agents. However, in reality, they seek to steal your money or personal information.

Commonly used techniques include:

The ghost rental

Here, the scammer posts an ad for non-existent or unavailable accommodation. It may be an apartment to which the scammer has no rights, or even a property that does not exist at all.

The scammer usually asks for a security deposit or first month's rent in advance, before disappearing once the money is received.

The fake ad

In this case, the scammer copies a real rental ad, often lowering the price to attract more victims.

When a potential tenant shows interest, the scammer may demand a security deposit or first month's rent in advance, then disappear.

Identity theft of the owner

The scammer pretends to be the real owner of a home. It can either change the contact details on an existing ad or create a new ad with stolen information.

A concrete case of rental scam

Take the example of Paul. He spotted an ad for a spacious studio in the Marais in Paris at an incredibly low price. Seduced by the offer, he contacted the “owner” who explained to him that he was currently traveling abroad for professional reasons.

The “owner” suggested doing the transaction via an online payment service so that Paul could receive the keys as soon as payment was made. Unfortunately, after sending the money, Paul never heard from the "owner" and the studio never existed.

Info: These fraudulent tactics show how crucial it is to stay alert and exercise caution when searching for accommodation. It is important to never send money without first verifying the existence and availability of the property, as well as the identity of the owner or agent.

The 6 signs of a fraudulent real estate ad

It is crucial to know how to spot the telltale signs of a fraudulent rental ad. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • The price is too good to be true : If the rental price is significantly lower than similar properties in the same area, this is a red flag. Scammers often use attractive prices to lure potential victims.
  • The photos are too perfect : If the photos look too professional or look like generic images found on the Internet, it's suspicious. You can do a reverse image search on Google to see if the photos have been used elsewhere.
  • Housing details are vague : A legitimate listing should include specific details about the property, such as size, number of rooms, layout, type of heating, etc. If this information is missing or vague, this is a red flag.
  • The absence of a physical visit to the accommodation : A legitimate landlord or real estate agent will always be willing to arrange a physical viewing of the home. If the advertiser insists on closing the deal without a visit, this may be a sign of fraud.
  • Requests for advance or unconventional payment : Scammers may ask for a security deposit, first month's rent, or even several months' rent in advance, before you sign the lease or view the unit. Likewise, if they insist that you use an unsecure or unconventional money transfer service, this should raise red flags.
  • Pressure to quickly sign the lease : If the advertiser puts pressure on you to quickly sign the lease, take a step back. A hasty decision can prevent you from noticing important details and may indicate an attempted scam.

The secrets to avoid falling into the trap of a false real estate ad

Navigating the rental market without falling for scams can seem daunting, but a careful and proactive approach can help you get there. To guide you through this process, we have developed a detailed, step-by-step approach:

 Do a thorough check

Start with a detailed check of the ad:

  • Verification of owner/agent identity : Enter the name of the owner or rental agent and their business name into a search engine like Google. Check if there are any negative comments or complaints related to their name.
  • Address Verification : Copy and paste the accommodation address into Google Maps. Review the street view image to make sure it matches the listing.

Pay attention to the broadcast of the ad

If the ad appears in multiple regions, that's a red flag.

To check this, you can copy a phrase from the ad and paste it into the search engine to see where it appears.

Use reverse image search

Reverse image search is a powerful tool to determine if ad images have been stolen. Here's how to do it:

  • Launch the Chrome browser on your computer or mobile
  • Go to the Google Images site
  • Click the camera icon in the search bar
  • Paste the ad image URL, or upload the image directly
  • Google will show you where this image appears online.

Insist on an in-person visit

Arrange a viewing of the accommodation. Never agree to pay for a viewing, and never pay a deposit or the first month's rent before viewing the apartment.

Don't pay in advance

Refuse any payment before signing a rental contract. This is a common tactic scammers use to get money without providing accommodation in return.

Examine the documents carefully

Read all rental-related documents carefully. If something is unclear or important information appears to be missing, ask for clarification.

Be careful with payment methods

Avoid non-questionable payment methods. If possible, prefer payment by check or credit card, which leave a trace and can be disputed in the event of fraud.