How to Spot a Rental Scam

Woman sitting on couch using a laptop.

When it comes to shopping online, it can be hard to know if you are getting an honest and reputable experience. Finding an apartment is no different.

In general, the intention of rental scams are to accomplish one or both of the following:

  1. Fraudulently receive money through security deposits, application fees, etc.
  2. Steal your personally identifiable information, such as your social security number, date of birth, and prior addresses.

According to, “approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities fraudulently used each year with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion.” Also, through reports to the FBI we know that “nationwide, in 2021, 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 due to these types of [rental] scams which is a 64% increase from the previous year.” These are staggering numbers and demonstrate that no one is immune to being taken advantage of. Some of these scams are easy to spot, others however, might take a little more examination.

How to spot a fake advertisement:

The first big step for these scammers is to steal photos. They take photos from other for sale or rental listings and share them as their own. You may even notice that the photos have a watermark with contact information that does not match what is in the listing.

As mentioned previously, usually the intention is to steal your hard-earned money. When looking at a listing, pay close attention to the application fee amount, the security deposit amount, and how many months rent they are asking for. Scammers will often ask for things that are outside of the standard market recommendations, or even outside of the law. Application fees of $300, security deposits that are many months’ rent, or asking for 4 months rent in advance, are suspicious.

Another item to look for is excessive spelling and grammar errors. Anyone that has received a scam email (so, all of us) has seen this before. If it doesn’t read well then there is likely something off about the listing.

Person using a laptop wearing fingerless gloves.

Suspicious activity:

Spotting a fake ad is step number one. But what if the ad looks great? Below are a few other issues you may encounter that are suspicious.

  • Asking for funds to be sent in an atypical way. Never send money through a wire transfer or through payment apps such as PayPal or Venmo, to someone you don’t know. In the event that this is a scam, it can be very difficult to get your money back.
  • They get upset when you ask for more information about the property, neighborhood, etc. Not only is this behavior typical of a scam artist, but it also indicates that they are not familiar with the property.
  • You request to view the property, but they refuse to meet you there and/or suggest unusual methods of entry, such as crawling through windows, using less common doors (i.e. the basement, or a back door that is overgrown), not using keys, looking through windows, etc.

General tips:

We’ve covered the high points, however there is so much more you can do to protect yourself when shopping for a rental. Here are more general tips that may help:

  • Use reputable companies and websites, avoid sites like Craigslist, Facebook, etc.
  • Think: is it too good to be true? If it’s a massive, beautiful apartment, and the rent is far below market value for the area, it may just be too good to be true.
  • Search for the address online to see if it’s posted for sale, if there’s multiple ads with different amounts, etc.
  • Compare the information on the listing to the deeded owner. This is considered public information and can usually be found in a town’s Real Estate Commitment Book or through the Tax Assessor’s Office.
  • If the property owner is listed as a business, such as an LLC, research the business and look for a valid point of contact. If it’s a property management company, search for their direct number independently rather than calling the number on the advertisement.
  • Always see the property in person. If they are not willing to let you see the property, then it should be an immediate red flag.
  • Review all documents before signing and be willing to ask questions. A quality property owner or manager accepts questions and is willing to clarify any confusion. If the documents you received have exorbitant costs, do not have legal jargon or formatting, or generally do not make sense, then this may just be a scam.
  • Ask lots of questions! Nothing deters a scammer more than someone who asks a lot of questions. If they become agitated and forceful then it’s time to move on.

There are so many variations of rental scams out there, these are just the most common factors. For Mainers visit to learn more about your rights as a tenant. The best things you can do are be curious, ask questions, and use common sense. Overall, if it seems suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is.


Your Guide to Renter’s Insurance

Featured image of an apartment living room.

If you rent an apartment, you may have heard of renter’s insurance, and you likely have some questions. With the litigious American society coupled with insurance law, many landlords are now requiring this from their tenants. Let’s dive into the benefits, cost, etc., so that you are well informed on your insurance journey.

What is renter’s insurance?

Bedroom covered by renter's insurance.

Renter’s insurance is an insurance policy you, the tenant, purchase when moving into a property that you do not own. Coverage within this type of policy does not include coverage for the building (dwelling) since it is owned by the landlord. Compared to other policies such as auto or life insurance, renter’s insurance is very inexpensive and offers more coverage than you might expect.

What are the benefits?

A standard renter’s insurance policy includes Personal Liability Coverage, Medical Payments to Others (MedPay), Personal Property Coverage, and Loss of Use. You may even be able to purchase additional coverages that fit your needs, such as special coverage for an engagement ring, so it is important to have a conversation with your agent about your needs. Each of the previously mentioned coverages has its benefits that make a renter’s policy well-rounded and a great investment.

Personal Liability: coverage for legal costs and damages that result from property damage or bodily injury that the policyholder (the insured or named insured) is responsible for.

MedPay: coverage for medical expenses that result from an injury to a non-policyholder that is caused by the insured or occurs on their property.

Personal Property: coverage for items owned by the insured that may become lost or damaged due to a covered claim. Certain personal items may not be included, it is important to discuss your belongings with your agent.

Loss of Use: coverage for housing costs should your residence become uninhabitable by way of a covered claim.

Examples of potential claims:

  • Fire loss
  • Smoke damage (either from within or outside the dwelling)
  • A leak that damages the dwelling or personal property
  • The insured’s pet injures a guest
  • An acquaintance falls in your dwelling and sues you
  • Maintenance that makes the dwelling uninhabitable

What are a deductible and a premium?

When it comes to insurance there is a lot of jargon that can be very confusing. In this section we will go over some of the important wording you will hear and see as you are navigating this process. Understanding what you hear and read, regardless of the type of policy, is critical to ensuring that you are protected and prepared in the case of a loss.

Deductible: the amount you pay if there is a claim, this is determined when purchasing your policy.

Premium: the purchase price of your policy, for renter’s policies this is typically paid annually.

Peril: the cause of a claim such as fire, lightning, smoke, etc.

How much does renter’s insurance cost?

The average cost for a renter’s policy in the state of Maine is around $125 per year. Yes, per year! That is about the cost of one quick lunch a month. Some things can affect this cost, such as credit history, insurance collections, eviction history, location, and more. Just like with any other insurance, it is a good idea to shop for the lowest price once you have established good credit, payment, and rental history, or every two to three years, as the insurance market shifts. Note: most policies are very similar, but as with anything else, cheaper is not always better, be sure to read your policy documents and ask questions.

Other Tips

It is vital that you read your policy documents before signing. Covered perils are often limited, and what you may expect to have covered actually is not. Your policy documents will also list exclusions (non-covered perils). These often include things like intentional damage or harm, government seizure, nuclear hazard, war, etc.

Woman researching renter's insurance on her computer.

Ask questions. If you are unsure about the language in your policy, ask your agent to explain. Insurance agents (generally) enjoy helping clients understand their coverage.

Keep track of your belongings. Many insurance companies will want proof of the items that need to be replaced at the time of a loss. The best way to keep track of your personal property is by photographing each item as you purchase it or move in. This is also a great way to see if the personal property coverage in your policy meets your needs.

This is a good purchase, even if it is not required by the property owner.

If you are not sure where to purchase a policy, speak with the property owner as they may have a recommendation.

In summary…

Renter’s insurance provides a value far above its actual cost. Unfortunately, no one knows when a claim might happen. But when a peril occurs, you will be grateful that your small investment has protected you, your guests, and your belongings.

Written by Jennifer Williams, a licensed insurance agent in the State of Maine and Assistant Property Manager for Tenant Solutions, LLC. This is NOT a comprehensive list of all perils, coverages, exclusions, and information. Read your policy carefully and speak with your agent regarding any questions or concerns.

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