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How to Avoid Housing Scams

December 28, 2023

A wooden house hanging on a fishhook

Experts don’t agree about the best time of year to move into a new home. Some say winter months are best, since demand is typically lower and you might find a better deal on rent. But the holidays are already busy and expensive, and the weather could be cold and rainy.

Others recommend moving in summer when kids are out of school and the weather is more cooperative. Plus, many leases turn over in early fall, especially in college towns, so you’re likely to see more options. But prices will be higher and competition fiercer.

Regardless of when you move, housing scams are, unfortunately, always in season. In fact, the FBI reported an increase in the amount of money people have lost to rental scams over the last few years.

The good news is it’s possible to recognize and protect yourself from potential housing scams if you know what to look for.

Scammers copy ads for legitimate rentals and create fake listings, changing the contact information. When you call them, instead of the rightful owner, they’ll pressure you to fill out paperwork divulging your personal information. Their next step is to insist you pay a security deposit right away—without seeing the property or signing a proper lease agreement. These are all red flags.

If you’re looking to move, here are some tips to help you stay safe from fraud.

  • Research the rental company to confirm they’re legitimate, and the property is listed on their website. Call the number on their website instead of the listing and confirm the real estate agent works there.
  • Be cautious of unusual, urgent requests for sensitive data, such as your social security number, online banking login, or how much you can afford to pay right now for a deposit.
  • Tour the property and meet the landlord before signing a contract. If you can’t go, ask a trusted friend to check it out and verify it aligns with the listing.
  • Don’t send payment for a property you can’t see, or to someone you can’t meet in person. Be wary if a landlord claims to be out of the country and wants rent sent to a foreign account.
  • Don’t pay with cash, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency – these are methods scammers use to steal your money.

Understanding how scams work is key to preventing fraud from happening to you or your loved ones. But anyone can fall prey to scammers. If it happens to you, please know you’re not alone. Report the scam as soon as possible by contacting Redwood Credit Union online or calling RCU’s Member Service Center at 1 (800) 479-7928. RCU can help you minimize damage, try to recover losses, and work with law enforcement.

Also, please consider talking about your experience with family and friends to help them protect themselves. We all need to work together to shine a light on fraudulent activity.

Learn more at RCU’s Fraud and Security Center.