Renting an apartment in college can feel like a huge hassle. As a college student, you are probably new to the rental game and unsure of what to expect. Unfortunately, scammers know this and use it to their advantage.

By learning how to spot rental scams, you can make your first apartment living experience a positive one.

Warning From the BBB

The Better Business Bureau has recently issued a warning to college students in light of reported rental scams on sites like Craigslist.

“Online classified ads have made finding campus rental properties much more convenient,” Paula Fleming, spokesperson for the Marlborough BBB, said in a statement. “Unfortunately though, what is convenient for college students is often just as convenient for scammers, who have found a way to take advantage of unsuspecting, college renters.”

The scammers attempt to make the fake apartment ad appealing enough to get college students to make contact. However, after the scam is over, you are left out of money and have nowhere to live.

Typically, an ad will promise a great space (it may even feature photos) at a competative price. When you contact the lister, you will be asked to send money for a security deposit. Don’t do it!

Your best defense against rental scams is to devote time and resources to research; remain diligent and skeptical; and visit the apartment before signing documents or sending money.

Apartment Scam Red Flags

Though scammers take care to make their fake classified ads seem legitimate, you can see through the rouse by looking out for these warning signs that the ad could be fraudulent:

Too Good to be True: If an apartment ad seems way too perfect, it likely isn’t legitimate. For instance, ads that claim to offer a large apartment for a dirt cheap price may be scams. These ads work by attracting first-time renters unfamiliar with rental prices.

You can verify whether or not a too-good-to-be-true apartment isn’t a scam by comparing the price and square footage to others in the area. If the ad seems to be an outlier, avoid making contact with the listed landlord.

The Landlord Asks for Money Prior to Seeing the Apartment or Signing an Agreement: If the landlord asks you to send a security deposit before showing you the apartment or having you sign documents, you should run away as fast as you can.

A legitimate property owner will show you as many of their places as you want before asking a dime. You should never pay a security deposit until you’ve seen the apartment and signed a lease.

The Landlord is Out of Town: Many scammers ask to speak exclusively through email, which should alert you to the possibility of fraud. A real landlord lives near enough to the apartment that he or she can come and show you around.

If the person with whom you speak is unavailable, say you’ll wait to speak again until he or or she is back in town. Excuses scammers give may include being out of the country for missionary work or a job.

The Landlord Asks for a Money Wire: Wired money is very difficult to retrieve once sent, which is why scammers prefer using this method of payment. Real landlords accept checks, and in some cases, credit cards. If the landlord asks you to send money through services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, walk away.

How to Find a Real (and Good) Apartment

Here are some strategies for finding a good and affordable college apartment and avoiding scams all together:

Talk to Friends: Students that are a year or so ahead of you are a great resource for housing. They may have experience with renting in the area and can tell you what landlords or rental companies are highly sought after. Make a list of tried and tested apartments near you and inquire there about a living space.

Meet in Person (and Bring a Friend): Renting from an independent landlord might be unnerving, but you can ensure he or she is legitimate. Ask to meet and talk in person and to visit the unit. Bring a friend or one of your parents with. Parents have more experience with renting and can help ask the right questions.

Use Credible Sites: The best way to avoid rental scams is to use a credible apartment listing website—like, of course. (Shameless self-promotion. We’re not above it.)