Are looking to rent a home? The search to put a roof over your head could bring scammers inside instead.
A new report just released by ApartmentList.com shows that roughly 41 percent of Arizonans have been involved in a rental property scam.
The report finds that across the nation, "an estimated 43.1 percent of renters have encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent, and 5.2 million U.S. renters have lost money from rental fraud."
For those who lost money in these scams, one in three have shelled out more than $1,000.
The report spelled out the top five most common ways that criminals duped potential renters:
Bait-and-Switch: A different property is advertised than the available rental, and the scammer tries to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for this property.
Phantom Rentals: A scam artist makes up listings for places that don’t exist or aren’t rentals and tries to lure renters with low prices.
Hijacked Ads: A fake landlord posts advertisements for a real property with altered contact information. Homes for sale are often re-listed as rentals in this type of fraud.
Missing Amenities: A real rental is listed as having features and amenities it lacks in order to collect a higher rent, the rental market equivalent of catfishing in online dating, when someone fakes their identity. The leasing agent tries to get renters to sign the lease before they notice the missing amenities.
Already Leased: A real or fake landlord attempts to collect application fees or security deposits for a rental that is already leased.
Note that in many of these fraud schemes, the scam artists use slightly altered real estate listings, making fraudulent listings harder to detect. Visiting a property can help identify scams, but renters moving from other cities often sign leases without seeing them first.
"I went onto one of the websites to look up the owner of the house and they weren't the owner; they didn't live here," explained potential renter Melissa Smith.
"Chasing rentals in Gilbert, Chandler - cities that are in demand under $1,500, it's so tough to find," said an associated broker with Keller Williams Integrity, Shivani Dallas. "So, when somebody lures you in with small dollars, be very careful of that."
This study also found that nearly 90 percent of renters changed their habits and took action to protect themselves the second time around.
ApartmentList showcased the updates previously scammed renters made:
Nearly 40% of renters now conduct additional research to ensure the legitimacy of a property.
35% of renters now visit apartments before signing a lease or paying a deposit.
Roughly 27% now make sure to meet the landlord in person before signing a lease or paying a deposit.
25% of renters now only use trusted online search platforms.
Nearly 17% now only rent certain types of buildings.
Only about 12% of renters said they did not change their habits after being scammed.