05/29/2014 12:46 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2014

Tips for Avoiding a Rental Scam

With peak rental season right around the corner, we want to make sure that you have the most stress free, streamlined and transparent rental process. It's important to begin your apartment hunt armed with all of the tools and insight you need to win the apartment of your dreams.

As you search for apartments across the Internet, you have access to the best listings available -- in real time. However, sometimes you might come across a listing that seems perfect, yet unrealistic. A large two bedroom apartment with granite countertops and floor to window ceilings in the heart of San Francisco -- for $1,500? We'd say that's definitely too good to be true. Despite proactive steps to encourage trust and transparency, occasionally there's a possibility of encountering a scam listing.

While we hope this is never the case, we want to give you all of the tools you need to protect yourself against scammers who are only after your money. Check out our best practices for renting and tips on how to deal with rental scammers.

Common Red Flags

Excuse for not being able to meet you in person. If you reach out to a landlord and they get back to you with one of the many excuses under the sun as to why they can't meet you to view the property, this screams red flag. Any landlord who is serious about renting their property makes it a top priority to actually show the unit. Additionally, if a prospective landlord tells you that you can only see the exterior of the property, you should absolutely steer clear.

On a missionary trip in [insert exotic country here]. We've heard this a few too many times. This response typically comes in a follow up email from the "landlord" after you reach out to express interest in their unit. While we appreciate the good intentions, don't get wrapped up in their emotional scam. Ultimately, you can't see the unit because they don't have one to show.

Excessive punctuation. In all of the wrong places. Lowercase letters, mis-spellings and punctuation galore are some of the tell tale signs that you're walking into a scam.

You must send a deposit to secure your interest. Anytime the so-called landlord requests money to secure your interest in the place should be immediately written off as a scam.

How to Protect Yourself If You Do Run Into a Scam

Never wire money or pay for anything you haven't seen in person. You should never be asked to wire money or pay for anything before you actually meet the landlord. This includes deposits to secure the unit, application fees, security deposit and maintenance fees.

Never apply to a unit prior to viewing it. This is not only to ensure best practices in safely renting, but we also want to make sure that you actually like the property you're committing to. After all, you're about to sign a year long lease (maybe even longer)!

Never make a security deposit prior to signing the lease. In most cases, you will be required to make a deposit upon signing a lease. The deposit amount typically ranges from 1.5 - 2 times the monthly rent. You should be alarmed, however, if the landlord requests that you make an upfront security deposit prior to signing a lease.

Let the listing source know. If you run into a scam, you should always report it to the listing source to immediately remove the fraudulent advertisement.

We certainly hope you never encounter a situation like any of the ones mentioned above, but if you do, we hope that you have all of the insight you need to make informed renting decisions. Happy hunting!

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