Avoiding Scams

Avoiding Housing Scams in Berkeley

Unfortunately housing scams can be common in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Scammers may impersonate a landlord, a management company, or even as another roommate.

At North Berkeley Properties you will always have the chance to see the unit before applying for it.

These tips / warning signs may be able prevent you from becoming a victim.  Please feel free to share this page to help prevent these housing scams.

  • Never pay money up front or provide private information (eg: SSN #) in order to see a unit
      • If someone pressures you to pay a holding deposit or submit an application just to be able to see a unit this is a red flag
      • Scammers typically want money or your SSN # then disappear once they  have it
      • Most landlords or owners will be able to show you the unit first and then accept applications or holding deposits during or after a showing.

  • Avoid the ‘I’m overseas or abroad’ landlord and ‘I need you to wire money’
      • Scammers typically have a variety of excuses about why they can’t show you the unit or meet you in person.  Stories range from ‘doing ministry work overseas’, ‘relocating due to military troop deployment’, etc.
      • Scammers will say they will mail you the keys to the apartment once you pay them
      • Scammers may tell you they won’t disclose the property address
      • Most legitimate landlords will meet you in-person or have an agent that can do so.
      • Very few (if any) landlords only accept security deposits or rent payments via wire transfer or Western Union.  Once you wire money it’s gone and may not be traceable so scammers prefer this method.
      • Some scammers have been asking applicants to pay using pre-paid gift cards and then emailing the card # to them.  Once you provide the card # out the money is gone and untraceable.
      • Most legitimate landlords will accept one or more of the following: personal checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, or bank checks.

  • Be careful if the listing looks too good to be true
      • Scammers will usually post ads for units that are substantially below market
      • These fake units will usually be furnished and have all the Craigslist amenity options checked (eg: in-unit laundry, dogs ok, cats ok, parking included, furnished, wheelchair accessible, etc.)
      • Look for the ‘MLS’ logo on the corners of the listing photos.  This could indicate that the unit photos were copied from the ‘Multiple Listing Service’ used by realtors when a property is being staged and listed for sale.  See image below.  Scammers will copy these images and re-use them in their listings.  Sometimes the MLS logo will be hidden by text or another generic logo.

  • If you are looking for apartments from outside Berkeley – don’t disclose that you are out of the area or unable to see the unit
      • Scammers never want to meet you in person.  Telling them off the bat that you aren’t in the area saves them the hassle of making up an excuse of why they can’t meet you.
      • Instead, always bring up that you may have a friend or family member view the apartment for you since you can’t see it in person.  Even if this is not possible you know right away if you’re dealing with a potential scam if the person makes up an excuse of why they can’t show your friend the apartment.
  • Be careful on the open Facebook housing groups – scams are common
      • There are multiple Facebook housing groups for Berkeley.  Some will require users to have a valid Berkeley.edu email address in order to see posts (these groups are usually less susceptible to scams)
      • Open Facebook housing groups that do not require a Berkeley.edu address will have more scam posts
      • If using an open group and someone comments to you saying they have a room or apartment you should check their profile.  Often times these profiles are made by bots and have generic pics, very few personal posts, and scores of posts on the Facebook housing group trying to get others to fall into their scam trap.

  • Roommate scams exist too…
      • Roommate scams have been occurring in Berkeley. 
      • A scammer may advertise that they have a room available or a sublet.  The same tips above apply here – insist on seeing the place before paying money, applying, etc.  For legitimate roommate search ads you may be expected to provide some information about yourself like (eg: ‘I love cooking and have lived in other apartments before and will keep the space clean’!).  Scammers could care less about your cooking skills or cleanliness and just want your money.
      • Other scams exist when the scammer pretends to be someone needing the room you are advertising.  The scammer will usually say they are overseas and cannot see the room you are advertising and will then submit their security deposit / rent via a real looking check and overpay the amount ‘by accident’.  The victim / other roommate will then be asked to wire the overpaid money back to the overseas roommate.  At this time the victim finds out that the original check from the overseas roommate bounced and never cleared.  The scammer has received the money via wire transfer and then disappears.

Examples of potentially fraudulent housing posts:

Circled in red – MLS logo indicating that this photo was take from a real estate listing for when the property was being sold.  Other red flags – price is 50% of average unfurnished 1-bedroom units in Berkeley, furnished unit allowing dogs + cats, etc.