There are plenty of ways to spot a rental scam including being asked for money upfront before signing a lease.
The best advice you could get would be to check the property records or tax records for the owner’s name and verify that the person you are signing the lease with is the same. The person you are writing the check out to should also be the name of owner. You should also check to see if the owner is in pre-foreclosure otherwise you could easily end up handing someone thousands of dollars and be evicted a week later when foreclosed.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find a vacant house, change the locks and pretend they’re the property owner or owners agent renting the house out. Always make sure the owner is the owner and the agent is a licensed agent. Those two things alone can save you thousands of dollars and hopefully give you peace of mind if you choose to search for a home to rent on your own.