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Housing and rental scams have become a rampant issue among students looking for housing accommodations, mostly through online advertisements and emails. These scams tend to become most common when/where the demand is highest (i.e., end of school year and end of summer).

A housing scam is an attempt to scam you out of money or personal information by advertising/renting or requiring payment for a non-existent apartment, room, or house.

As a young vulnerable audience, students need to be aware of these types of rental scams so they do not fall victim to scammers.

Off-campus rental phishing scams typically involve fraudulent schemes aimed at deceiving potential renters or tenants into providing personal information, making upfront payments, or signing lease agreements for non-existent or misrepresented rental properties. Here are some common types of off-campus rental phishing scams:

  1. Fake Listings: Scammers create fake rental listings on popular online platforms, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other rental websites. These listings often feature attractive properties at below-market prices to entice potential victims.


  1. Impersonation: Scammers may impersonate legitimate landlords or property managers and use their names and contact information to communicate with potential renters. They may even provide fake documentation, claiming to be the owners of the property.


  1. Phishing Emails: Scammers send emails pretending to be landlords or property managers, asking potential renters to provide personal information, such as social security numbers, bank account details, or copies of IDs, under the pretext of rental applications or credit checks.


  1. Wire Fraud: In some cases, scammers may request a deposit or rent payment to be wired to them directly, claiming it is necessary to secure the rental property. Once the money is sent, the scammer disappears, and the student is left without a place to live.


  1. Advanced Fee Scams: Scammers may ask for upfront fees, such as application fees, security deposits, or holding fees, even before the student has seen the property in person. They disappear after receiving the money, leaving the student/guardian without a rental and out of the funds.


  1. Out-of-Town Rental Scams: In this scenario, scammers may claim to be out of town and unable to show the property in person. They might provide excuses for not meeting the potential tenant and instead insist on receiving payments or personal information upfront.

Avoiding scams when searching for off-campus housing is crucial to protect yourself from financial loss and potential safety risks. Here are some tips to help you avoid scams:

  1. Research the Rental Market: Familiarize yourself with the local rental market by researching average prices and common rental practices in the area. This will help you identify any suspiciously low-priced listings that might be too good to be true.


  1. Use Reputable Rental Websites: Stick to well-known and reputable rental listing websites. Avoid sites that have a high number of unverified or suspicious listings. The Off-Campus Life office offers a list of rental properties that accommodate JMU students.


  1. Visit the Property in Person: Whenever possible, visit the property in person before making any commitments. If you're not in the area, consider asking a friend or family member to check it out on your behalf.


  1. Beware of Urgency and Pressure: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure you into making quick decisions. Be cautious of landlords or agents who push you to sign a lease or make a payment immediately.


  1. Avoid Wire Transfers, Payment Apps and Cash Payments: Scammers may ask for upfront fees or deposits via wire transfer, payment apps such as Venmo or Cash App, or cash, as these payment methods are difficult to trace. Use more secure payment methods like credit cards or checks. Avoid any landlord or agent who asks you to wire money or make an upfront payment before seeing the property or signing a lease. Reputable landlords will not request this. Whenever possible, use your apartment portal account to make all your payments and keep your receipts.


  1. Watch Out for Overpayment Scams: Some scammers might send you a check for an amount higher than the agreed-upon rent and ask you to refund the difference. Don't fall for this, as their initial check will likely bounce, leaving you with a loss.


  1. Research the Landlord: If you're dealing directly with a landlord, try to gather information about them. Search for their name, check online reviews, and verify their contact information. If they seem elusive or unwilling to provide details, it could be a red flag.


  1. Read the Lease Carefully: Read and understand the lease agreement thoroughly before signing it. Ensure that all the terms are fair and reasonable.


  1. Check for Multiple Listings: Scammers often copy legitimate listings and repost them at lower prices to attract victims. Use reverse image searches or portions of the listing text to check if the same property is listed elsewhere.


  1. Avoid Providing Personal Information Upfront: Be cautious about sharing personal information, especially financial details, before verifying the legitimacy of the landlord and the property.


  1. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off or too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut feelings and be cautious when dealing with any suspicious rental offers.


  1. Get Everything in Writing: Ensure all agreements, terms, and conditions are documented in a written lease agreement. Read it carefully before signing, and don't hesitate to ask questions if anything seems unclear.


  1. Seek Advice from Student Services: If you're a student or guardian, the Off-Campus Life office can provide information and assistance in finding off-campus housing options.


By staying vigilant, doing thorough research, and being cautious in your interactions, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to off-campus housing scams. Always prioritize your safety and financial security when searching for a new place to live.

If you suspect fraudulent activity or encounter scammers while searching for off-campus housing, it's crucial to take immediate action to protect yourself and others from potential harm or financial loss. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Cease Communication: If you are in contact with the suspected scammers, stop all communication with them immediately. Do not provide them with any personal information or payment details.


  1. Verify: Research the property or housing offer they provided. Look for any red flags or inconsistencies, such as unusually low prices, poor grammar in the listing, or requests for wire transfers or payments through unconventional methods such as Venmo or Cash App.


  1. Report to Authorities: If you are certain that you have encountered scammers or fraudulent activity, report it to your local law enforcement agency. Provide them with all the relevant information and evidence you have gathered.


  1. Contact the JMU Off-Campus Life office: Contact the OCL office to verify the legitimacy of the listing. They may have information about known scams or fraudulent activities.


  1. Notify the Platform: If you found the housing listing through a rental platform or website, report the suspected scam to the platform's support team. Most reputable platforms have procedures for dealing with fraudulent listings and may take action against the scammers.


  1. Warn Others: If you came across the listing on social media, community forums, or campus groups, warn others about the potential scam to prevent more people from falling victim to it.


  1. Protect Your Personal Information: Ensure that you haven't shared any sensitive personal information with the scammers. If you have, take steps to protect yourself from identity theft or other potential risks.


  1. Involve the JMU Campus Community: Inform your fellow students, friends, and peers about the suspected scam. The more people are aware, the less likely others will fall for the same trap.


  1. Be Cautious Moving Forward: Exercise caution when dealing with future housing listings or any online transactions. Scammers can be sophisticated and may try to target you again.


The key to avoiding scams is to stay vigilant, trust your instincts, and verify the authenticity of any housing offer before making any commitments or payments. If something seems too good to be true, it often is.

Please contact our office to see what we can do to help! Visit: The Union 205 Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., email us at, or call us at (540) 568-6071!

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