Recently, reports have emerged from both the UCSB community and the city of Santa Barbara regarding fraudulent property listings, with scammers often targeting rental platforms like Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, and Craigslist. As housing becomes a major priority for students in the fall, it’s crucial that UCSB community members can recognize counterfeit listings and alert authorities about dishonest landlords. The UCSB Information Security team would like to provide some guidance to help our community identify these fraudulent listings. There are a few things that you should look out for when house hunting in order to protect yourself and others.
If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
If you see a property with a rent cost significantly below market average, that should be an immediate red flag. Always research comparable property listings in the neighborhood to get a good idea of the market price.
Listing details are limited and vague
If the “landlord” cannot provide basic details about the property or resorts to excessive vagueness, it is probably because they have never been there. Missing details about the utilities, square footage, or the amenities should raise concern.
The “landlord” is very persistent
Rental property scammers will often use an urgent and threatening tone in order to scam you as fast as possible. They may aggressively message prospective tenants, demanding they owe money or have to sign a fraudulent lease. Such fear-based tactics are prevalent across various cybercrimes.
The “landlord’ is unable to meet in person
Fraudulent landlords will often tell tenants they are unable to meet or show the listing in person. In many rental scams, the landlord is unable to tour the property because they have no access to the inside. If the landlord requests that you inspect the property yourself, exercise caution. If they genuinely cannot meet in person, they should offer a virtual property tour as an alternative.
They ask you to wire money
Many scammers will request that you wire money via a service such as MoneyGram, Venmo, Cashapp, or Zelle. Scammers will often try to convince you to wire money for an application fee, rent payment, or a security deposit. Typically, there is no legitimate reason to wire money to a landlord. Refrain from wiring money to individuals you haven't met personally, as once the funds exit your bank account, retrieval becomes nearly impossible.
What to do if you encounter a fraudulent listing or become a victim:
- Contact local authorities
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Contact the website where the listing is found
This A.S. resource provides a list of different legitimate leasing companies located in Isla Vista. Please note that this list is not intended as a recommendation, and simply provides verification of leasing companies in the area. It is always safest to work directly with a local rental agency.
Students who are most at risk for these scams are those who are not local to or familiar with the area, particularly international students. Even if you do not lose money to a rental scam, it is still important to report these listings and suspicious “landlords” to help protect others.
Thank you for your attention and support in preventing housing fraud.