How to Avoid Rental Scams: Stay Safe on Craigslist and Facebook

Published on Mar 13, 2024


We get it—finding a rental is brutal right now. Scammers exploit the stress, preying on unsuspecting victims and counting on tight deadlines and housing desperation to cloud decision-making.

Enough is enough. It’s time to arm you with the knowledge to empower you to spot the red flags, protect yourself, and safely find a place to call home.

How do Rental Scams Work?

Rental scams prey on renters who need to act quickly. Scammers create fake listings for desirable properties with one goal: getting your money or identity before you realize the truth.

Here are the most common types of scams targeted at the rental market:

  • Phantom rentals are entirely fabricated listings showcasing dream apartments or houses that aren’t for rent or don’t exist at all—a tactic that will scale as AI image and video generators become more sophisticated.

  • Virtual rental tour scams exploit pre-recorded videos or stolen footage. Scammers create the illusion of legitimacy and convince you to move forward before seeing the place in person.

  • Ad hijacking involves copying and modifying legitimate rental ads, replacing the landlord's contact information with their own.

  • Identity theft occurs when scammers use fabricated or legitimate rental applications to collect sensitive information such as your Social Security number, birth date, and bank details.

  • Self-guided/self-showing scams involve scammers posing as prospective renters, obtaining lockbox or electronic keypad codes, and using these to convince renters that they're dealing with the real landlord.

Rental Fraud Red Flags

Think you can spot a fake listing? Scammers count on you to overlook the warning signs. Here’s what to look out for:

1. Prices that are Too Good to Be True

Found your dream rental at half the market rate? Before you celebrate, ask yourself why. Do your due diligence—a quick Google search on the “average rental price in (location)” will soon reveal if the asking price is too good to be true.

2. Typos, Poor Grammar, and Excessive Punctuation

Typos, grammar mistakes, and poor punctuation aren't always signs of a scam, but they are a sign the person is either:

  1. hurriedly pushing out fresh listings to stay ahead of automated flagging systems used on platforms like Craigslist and/or

  2. someone unintentionally creating listings that are poorly written (this might be due to language barriers, indicating the listing has been created from an overseas location.)

3. MLS Watermarks

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a database that realtors use to list properties and photos, and it often has watermarks for copyright protection. Without permission, scammers use photos from the MLS, watermarks and all, to make their fake rentals look more believable. They're banking on you not knowing the MLS, and assuming those marks are a sign it's legitimate.

If you see an MLS watermark on a rental listing that isn't on a realtor's site, it's almost certainly a scam.

4. No Tenant Screening Processes

Any landlord claiming they don't need applications or credit checks is either shockingly naive or up to no good. Tenant screening protects both parties. No process means they're likely hiding something.

5. Requests for Personal Information or Money Before Viewings

Your Social Security number to “start the application’? Rent deposit to “hold your spot”? Don't fall for their urgency tactics. Scammers want your cash or sensitive information before you realize it's fake. They might even pressure you into acting fast to avoid “losing” your new home.

Sure, legitimate landlords and rental companies DO require personal information for background and credit checks, BUT only after you've viewed the property, spoken directly with the landlord or property manager, and formally applied.

6. Untraceable Payment Methods

Cryptocurrency, wire transfers, gift cards… Oh lordy, no! Legitimate landlords use traceable methods like bank transfers or rental-specific payment platforms. Scammers demand ways to get your money with no paper trail, using platforms like Zelle, Venmo and Cash App.

7. Unverifiable Property Rental Statuses

Does the rental even exist? Any real rental will have a footprint. Scammers list fake addresses, nonexistent units, or properties they have zero rights to. Here's how to find the truth:

  • Most rentals operate through a management company. No website, office, or contact person is a huge red flag.

  • Counties often list property ownership online. If the “landlord's” name isn't on the deed, run!

  • Be wary of listings with no online presence at all. Even recent listings should have some trace.

8. Unconventional Requests

After a self-tour, have you been asked to leave the keys under the doormat? Is the “landlord” telling you some story about how the keys are lost and the only way in right now is through the front window? Legitimate landlords follow safety procedures and have access to their own properties. Any request that makes you go, “Wait, that's weird…” should be a major red flag.

Platform-Specific Dangers

Unfortunately, rental scams on all sorts of platforms are rife. But the two most commonly used are Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Why? Because neither platform requires a user to verify their identity, making posting fraudulent listings risk-free for scammers.

So you won’t be a victim of the next scam on Craigslist or Facebook, here are some telltale signs to look out for.

Craigslist Rental Scams

In the image below, you can see that the image we searched for using Google Lens returned an exact match result. This is one of a few giveaways that this was a potential scam.

Example Scam Listing

Here are seven red flags we found in this listing:

  1. 🚩 The scam was posted after the original listing, indicating that this wasn’t an unintentional duplicate listing by either Craigslist or the user. You’ll notice the scam listing was posted 8 hours ago, while the legitimate listing was posted a day ago.

  2. 🚩An apartment in Napa County for $999? We don’t think so. A quick Google search reveals that the average apartment in Napa goes for between $2,500-3,000. Even at 465ft^2^, a thousand bucks is well below the average price range.

  3. 🚩The listing included no address, no Google Map link, and the property is seemingly located in the middle of nowhere.

  4. 🚩Only three photos? That isn’t a great sign, either.

  5. 🚩 The property description also contains typos, grammar mistakes, and bad punctuation.

  6. 🚩 And lastly, the worst offending giveaway on this listing is the request for a “one-month security deposit of $1,000.” That’s a huge red flag!

Example Scam Listing

And the legitimate listing, how can we tell this is the real deal?

  1. ✅ The price lands almost smack-bang in the middle of our Napa County average rental price. The listing’s title is also more descriptive than the scam listing.

  2. ✅ The address is mentioned. Nothing to hide here.

  3. ✅ There is a Google Maps link. Whenever you’re considering a rental from Craigslist, it’s always a good idea to browse the Street View images and try to match them with one of the listing’s images.

  4. ✅ There is a date for when this property is available to move into.

  5. ✅ Lots of property photos are always a good sign.

  6. ✅ The description is well-written and free of mistakes.

  7. ✅ Lastly, there are detailed specifics surrounding utility bills, garbage collection, and even additional rent to be paid for roommates.

Example legitimate listing

Facebook Marketplace Rental Scams

It didn’t take long to find a second example of a rental scam, this time on Facebook Marketplace. Another Google Lens search turned up several exact-match images.

Example Marketplace Scam Listing

Here are the red flags spotted on this Facebook listing:

  1. 🚩 The price is tantalizing good. Too good. The average rental price is $2,300 in Woodland, CA. $918 is far below that.

  2. 🚩 The listing was posted 4 hours ago. You’ll notice the legitimate listing was created 67 days ago.

  3. 🚩 Trulia and other listing sites mention the unit has two bedrooms and one to two bathrooms.

  4. 🚩 The description is super short.

Below the fold is mentioned the user's profile. Naturally, we took a look. The profile is plagued with random TikTok videos, AI images are used, and the user has only a handful of friends. Worse, they had posted a second property on Marketplace, which was also a fraudulent listing copied from a legitimate listing.

Example legitimate listing

And to the legitimate listing:

  1. ✅ Price is in the right range.

  2. ✅ The number of beds and baths matches the photos.

  3. ✅ The landlord's number is listed (we blurred it, of course).

  4. ✅ The description is comprehensive and well-written.

  5. ✅ 67 days ago. That’s when the property was listed.

  6. ✅ We cut it short so the image wouldn’t take up your entire screen, but you can see a sample of the level of detail that’s included in this listing (there’s more further down).

Example Legitimate Listing

Ziprent's Safeguards

The last thing we want is for you to be the next victim of the scammer tactics we’ve described above. For this reason, Ziprent has dedicated systems to protect both renters and landlords. Here's how we go above and beyond to ensure your safety:

  1. Only prospective tenants whose information is verified through multiple sources with identity verification get unique access codes for specific time slots, preventing unauthorized showings many scammers rely on.

  2. If keys go missing or other irregularities occur, we act immediately. Our response includes on-site inspections, rekeying, and collaboration with law enforcement.

  3. We collect data at every step, allowing us to quickly spot unusual activity, even if it mimics legitimate renter behavior.

  4. Our platform analyzes listings, renter behavior, and external data to flag suspicious activity in real-time. With this process in place, we catch scams that renters might miss.

  5. We act fast when things go wrong. Our dedicated team is committed to restoring access to legitimate renters and minimizing the impact on those targeted by scams.

  6. We believe knowledge is power. This guide is an example of the lengths Ziprent goes to to combat scams.

Our track record of over 150,000 incident-free self-guided tours proves our commitment to your safety while still offering the convenience you need.


We fight hard to protect you, but with rental scams such as the ones we’ve detailed above, it’s important that you remain alert to the signs of a fraudulent listing. Prevention is key, so remember that using verified platforms like Ziprent and others like Zillow drastically reduces your risk.

And keep in mind, always be suspicious of Ziprent listings found on sites like Craigslist and Facebook. Ziprent does not, and will not in the future, ever publish our listings on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

We actively discourage landlords from advertising on platforms that lack a verification process, so there’s a high likelihood they’re scams. By staying informed, reporting scams, and choosing platforms committed to renter protection, together, we can make the housing search safer for everyone.

Ready to get started?

Get immediate access to your property dashboard.