Beware Of Apartment Scammers

A reader writes,

In the course of searching for a new place to live in Minneapolis, I found a great condo right in the area I was looking for, renting for $900/mo for a 1 bedroom which included electricity, gas, water, sewer, garbage, cable, and high speed internet! Sound too good to be true? You bet…it was a scam.

Now I’m in contact with the scammer. I’ve reported her to Craigslist (where I found the original post) and to fraudwatchinternational.com. However, all I have right now is her email. I would greatly love some expert advice on a) how to get more info from her without giving her mine (so I can report more than just an email address), and / or b) how to severely mess with what she’s trying to do.

For now, I am just playing dumb to keep her talking to me, but I’m running out of ideas. Any suggestions?

We would report her to the FTC and the Internet Crime Complaint Center as well, and then wash our hands of the affair. You could also contact the blog “Here be dragons,” which keeps a list of apartment scammers specific to Craigslist. (We looked for your scammer’s email address there and didn’t find it—maybe you can request that the site add it.)

If you’re really into scamming the scammer, you could check out the tips on 419eater.com for how to string a scammer along without divulging any personal information, or visit scamwarners.com for more information on combatting online scams. But seriously, unless you enjoy scam baiting for sport and don’t mind the associated risks (as our reader humphrmi points out, your email can be traced if you’re not careful), just report the scammer to the sites above and put it behind you.

If you’re looking for an apartment, rent.com lists some warning signs of potential rental scams. Watch out for:

  • “too good to be true” offers;
  • required payment through a wire transfer service (e.g. Western Union) or an online escrow service;
  • a landlord in a distant location;
  • pressure to complete the transaction asap;
  • unusual circumstances that “explain” why the apartment is so cheap, or why it can’t be viewed prior to renting;
  • a landlord who can’t or won’t meet with you in person or speak to you over the phone.

You might also want to check out Here be dragons to see if the email address being used is already in their list of known scammers.


Update: Here are some samples of the messages the scammer sent our reader, so you can see for yourself what an apartment scam looks like. In this case it’s pretty obvious, both from the poor writing style and the completely unrealistic story behind the low rental price. There are more examples on sites like 419eater and Here be dragons if you want to familiarize yourself with the, uh, genre.

#1:

Thank you for your interest. I have available the apartment located at 2800 W 44th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410, with 1 bedroom, 1 living room and 1 bathroom, square ft. 911-933. Because I moved with my job in United Kingdom, London, i need money to pay the rent here which is very expensive and that is the reason i want to rent the apt at this low price and to find a good person for it fast. I can rent you the apt for maximum 5 years this is the period i have contract here but i can rent it for a low period too. I`m the owner of the apt and it’s exactly like in the PICS. The rent for 1 month is $900 including all utilities (water, electricity, Internet, cable, parking, air conditioning, fireplace, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator). You can move in the apt in the same day when you receive the keys. The only problem is that I`m the only person who has the keys but I hope that we will find a compromise.

Thank you for your interest and wait news from you.

#2:

Thank you for your reply. Like I have inform you before, the price you shall pay for one month of rent will be $900.00 US, with no extra taxes to pay. The money I want to receive it monthly to my bank account, I hope will be no problem for you to wire the money to my bank account. The apartment is ready for you, you will need only to receive the keys and the contract to check it, and see if you like it. Obviously we need a way to complete this deal that will allow us to make sure we receive what we are after. I have found a way for us to complete the deal safely and fast, and in this way you will receive the Keys in less than 2 days, if you move fast as well. The solution is provided by a company called TNT which is similar to FedEx, DHL or UPS, which will handle the payment and delivery of the Keys. I have found a procedure that will allow you to pay for the rent of the apt only after you will receive the keys and rental contract, through this way you will see it and decide if you will stay in the apt or not before I receive my payment.

(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. humphrmi says:

    So what’s the scam, anyway?

    Be careful with scammers. As 419eaters points out, many of these people are dangerous. Don’t forget that unless you’re anonymizing your email (i.e. [www.anonymizer.com] , amongst others) the email headers probably carry your IP address, which (depending on your ISP) can lead someone to the neighborhood you live in (RCN, my ISP does this – the reverse DNS lookup of my IP address shows a lot about where I am connected to their POP).

  2. agnamus says:

    Hahaha, seriously, wire your rent payment to your land lord’s bank account? Do people actually fall for this stuff?

    • SomeoneGNU says:

      @agnamus:

      That’s silly! The only thing you should use wires for is to help EXPORT millions of dollars of a deceased prince’s money. Everyone knows that.. Wires are for the important things.

    • Moosehawk says:

      @agnamus: I like how in the 2nd letter he sticks on the $900 ‘US’.

      So wait, I want to move in to an apartment in Minneapolis, but I have to pay in US currency? Oh sorry, count me out.

  3. illtron says:

    I found this listing for a very “specious” apartment on Craigslist a few months ago… [www.flickr.com]

  4. econobiker says:

    [craigscrimelist.org] is a great place for fun stories like apartment scams and more…

  5. Yurei says:

    *Scammer Sense is tingling!*

  6. gibbergabber says:

    Sounds like the condo ad I responded to. It was for a small loft-style condo in Georgetown for somewhere around $1000 a month. I don’t remember the exact figure. I emailed the owner even though I knew it couldn’t be true. She said she had just moved back to the UK so she couldn’t meet me in person, but I could email her my information so she could run a background check. I moved on. Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to report her post as a scam. I guess I assumed no one would be stupid enough to send personal info to an anonymous renter.

  7. pax says:

    I got an e-mail almost exactly like this when I was apartment-hunting a couple of months. It’s so similar that I think it might even be the same scammer, though I was searching in NYC. I smelled scam right away and dropped the scammer like a hot potato, but you’d think that if this were a reasonably smart person, they’d vary their pitch a little bit.

    • veronykah says:

      @paxetaurora: Got the same one in LA too, I knew it was a scammer but I was curious to see how they tried to pull off the scam.
      Moved to England, no one has keys, blah blah blah….
      Wonder if they just post to ALL CLs…

  8. fonetek says:

    When are people going to learn. Craigslist is a breeding ground for scams. It’s riddled with shady people and prostitutes. Might as well look for an apartment on the bulletin board of the nearest seedy neighborhood bar.

    • mizike says:

      @fonetek:

      Actually I’ve had great experiences renting over craigslist. The last two apartments I’ve lived in were found on craigslist and kijiji. Sure you run into scams, but they’re pretty easy to spot and avoid with some common sense (ie., not sending a money order overseas and waiting for the keys to arrive in the mail). The fact is, if you’re moving to a different city, it’s almost impossible to find a place without either a) going there in person, b) using a rental broker or c) using craigslist / kijiji. If you’re poor you can basically rule out the first two…

    • sponica says:

      @fonetek: I’ve used Craigslist to find both of the apts I’ve lived in in NYC. I would in no way pass a credit check a broker would do, because I’m a student paying my rent with my loan money. CL is basically the only option. But you use common sense. I mean if you want to live in a decent neighborhood in Brooklyn it’s going to be around 800 dollars a month at least, particularly if you want to be near Manhattan. Never meet alone, if you can. And like those fake job offers that get emailed to me, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    • booboolee says:

      @fonetek: I also found my beautiful apartment in STL on Craigslist. Clearly if you can visit the place and meet the landlord, then it’s all good. I also met with a private homeowner about an upstairs apt who i found via craigslist, and that experience was fine too.

  9. 12-Inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

    I understand the language and the low price give it away. But what’s the scam? It seems to say that you get to see the apt before paying (obviously a poorly written statement by the scammer)?

    • dragonfire81 says:

      @12-Inch Idongivafuck Sandwich: It appears the scammer wanted to mail keys to the would be victim rather than checking out the apartment. Therefore the scam is that they keys are useless and the scammer is probably trying to collect first and last months rent payments.

  10. bones11 says:

    The scam is there is no apt./house. The ‘landlord’ mails a fake set of keys and you wire the money. You take the keys to that address and turns out someone else not only owns that house but they are living there too. The scammer got the picture off the internet via a realestate website or possibly Google Maps.

  11. Sam Glover says:

    You might want to forward your emails to HOME Line, a Minneapolis-based tenant hotline. They might be interested in tracking these scams, or have some insight on what you can do (although I don’t think they would help with scambaiting).

    If you can get enough information, you might even be able to get the police involved.

  12. cabinaero says:

    2800 W 44th St is an apartment building that’s gone condo… you might want to contact the condo association and notify them that someone is trying to scam off a unit.

    • superhumanben says:

      @cabinaero: Not only that but if they are claiming it’s tax free, you can probably get them in a heap of trouble with the local Minneapolis government for not having proper licenses to rent out their living space. Not only that but big brother IRS probably would want a chunk out of it too. Without a proper contract I would probably steer clear of any sort of “mail me the money and i’ll give you the keys.”

  13. hills says:

    same scam being used with pics of my building in portland, OR – nearly word for word emails about being in the UK etc… no more have popped up in the last several weeks for my building since I told them to bugger off….

  14. trixare4kids says:

    I own a duplex and early this year when I put an ad up to rent it on Craigslist I got no less than THREE scam attempts. I didn’t buy any of them because I’m fully aware of western union scams AND I would never rent to someone I hadn’t met and fully vetted, but I did send them a few emails to waste their time and see what the scam was. They were all pretty much the same story, just a few different details such as names and locations.

    It goes like this:

    1. Potential tenant wants to rent from me.
    2. They are moving to the country because of a job change and so want to take the place sight unseen.
    3. They are willing to pay 6 to 12 months rent in advance.
    4. They want to fed-ex me a check immediately to secure the apartment.
    5. Oh.. and by the way.. their accountant is going to be sending the check — it’s money from a commission they just received. Would I be so kind as to cash the check, keep the rent money and wire them back the balance? They are going to be traveling around a bit before coming to the states and need some cash for their holiday. It’d be a big favor for them and please keep an extra $200 for your troubles. Oh and please don’t scam me, I’m going to trust you, I’m sure you are a good person. God be with you.

    Of course it was written in very poor English. I can’t believe anyone would fall for this, but I’m sure the allure of 6-12 months rent upfront might be tempting to some people. It’d be very easy to also scam someone looking for a roommate this way.

  15. Quirked_Eyebrow says:

    Ummmm… Thanks for the promo of my blog. :) (I went out for pizza leaving behind a quiet hum and came back to find out my stats counter had exploded ~ gosh!)

    Yes ~ if people want to forward information re scammers, we’ll be glad to post the info (no attachments please!). The info doesn’t have to be from Craigslist ads ~ many scammers cross post to other free rental sites or even twiddle with other scams (puppy peddling is a biggie).

    No ~ we don’t have *the* definitive list of scammails; just a really healthy sampling and we do try to stay fairly current.

    Thanks for all those who dropped by and remember ~ please be careful out there!

  16. nacoran says:

    I’ve been running into a local con artist who seems to be working out of one of my local haunts. I’ve tried to spook his marks, but he won’t leave them alone long enough for me to warn them.

  17. ltlbbynthn says:

    this kind of makes me wonder how easy it would be to run a scam with proper grammar and spelling.

    • Optimistic Prime says:

      @ltlbbynthn: I’ve come to the conclusion 80% of the population has horrible grammar and spelling skills. From my co-workers to my own family, I find it hard to figure out what they are trying to tell me.

    • dragonfire81 says:

      @ltlbbynthn: I just had the exact same thought. Surely someone in Nigeria has a good grasp of the English language.

  18. Jubilance22 says:

    This scam is big here in Central Florida, with so many homes and condos available for rent. I was checking out Craigslist when I was apartment hunting a few months ago, and I came across a ton of these fake ads. I flagged as many as I could, but these folks never stop.

  19. quail says:

    If I ever saw the need for people to learn proper English grammar this is it. First tip it’s a scam: poor use of English. With the Y Generation coming along and their easy acceptance of bad writing and grammar I can see more people falling for poorly written scams.

    • ARP says:

      @quail: That’s just it- the txting genr8shun translates that poor grammar into a perfectly coherent and well written paragraph. It sounds stupid, but as our grammar and writing skills wane, our ability to spot scammers and genuinely stupid people decreases.

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        @ARP: That makes me sad.

        One of the reasons I like this web site is because the people writing comments here do use proper grammar and spell words correctly. Sure, there might be a WTF or a LOL but there aren’t 500 word comments consisting solely of acronyms or people consistently using “your” instead of “you’re”.

    • Carl3000 says:

      @quail:

      Those lousy kids and their no good grammar! In my day, we used apostrophes yessiree.

      PS What’s the deal with text messages amirite

  20. Doofio says:

    So what’s stopping someone from receiving the keys, checking out the place…THEN wiring the money if everything checks out?

    If I read this right, and someone is dumb enough to send money before even physically going to the apartment to find out if it’s legit…I’m sorry to say but they deserve to get scammed as a lesson in stupidity.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      @Doofio:
      A variation on this is where the scammer does have access to an empty apartment. Renters visit, like the place, put down a deposit, and find out weeks later on moving day that 10 other people are also trying to move into “their” apartment.

  21. Saboth says:

    I have a 401k where I work, and recently I got a notice of 0 balance. About a week before, I had a balance of 8.5k Everyone at work was upset the following day, and come to find out the company that holds the funds sold off everyone’s 401k and put the money in a new fund (without notifying anyone). Everyone incurred substantial losses on the sale. Not sure how that is legal…

  22. Saboth says:

    argh, meant to put that in the USAA thread!

  23. East_Coast_Midwesterner says:

    This scam is very common on craigslist. The #1 flag is the @gmail.com or @yahoo.com email they list on the contact field.

    I love CL, but half the flippin’ rental brokers are pulling a bait and switch also.

    • Jevia says:

      @East_Coast_Midwesterner: Are you saying that nearly anyone that posts on craigslist with a gmail or yahoo email address is automatically a scammer? those are the only two I have (besides my work-purposes only email) because comcast kept could never get my account right, tho i’ve now cancelled with them.

  24. stands2reason says:

    Wiring money for an apartment with the *promise* getting keys…

    lolwut?

  25. Ben Popken says:

    Report the scam then move on. Continuing to engage the scammer is not really a good idea unless you have a lack of hobbies.

  26. emmybee says:

    people pay $900/month for one bedrooms in minneapolis? i no longer feel bad about paying manhattan rent.

  27. temporaryerror says:

    So, the OP never said whether or not she got taken by the scam. I’m guessing/hoping no.
    Also, I rented a little apt in college from landlords that lived the next state over, and I always paid my rent through a bank transfer. So that doesn’t necessarily make it a scam….

  28. temporaryerror says:

    Also, I did meet with them in person to sign contracts and receive keys.

  29. madfrog says:

    I just moved and found alot of phoney ads on craigslist. Out of about 50 or so that I read, I would say that at least 20 were bogus. Craigslist does, however list at the top of the page ways to spot a potentially phoney ad. I also did my own search thru the newspaper and used a real estate agent that came recommended to me as well. In the end, the agent found us an absolutely beautiful apartment with plenty of space for a resonable rent in the area. It didn’t cost me anything to use her since the prospective landlords were paying for her services.

  30. In New York City where the renter -not the landlord- pays for the broker, apartment scams are as common as rats in the subway tracks. A typical scam is an “open house” for an apartment that’s well under market value. The broker asks you for a $100 non-refundable application fee, supposedly a credit check (any broker asking you more than $40 for a credit check is robbing you blind). Guess what? You won’t get the apartment.

    By New York State law, a broker must disclose his name in the listing (that includes Craigslist). Go to the New York Department of State Web site to check if he’s legit: [appsext8.dos.state.ny.us]

    Also they’re required by law to carry their licence at all times and show it to you if requested.

    Of course, the best thing is find a friend who knows a landlord and skip the damn broker.

  31. GeronimoShako says:

    “I would greatly love some expert advice on a) how to get more info from her without giving her mine (so I can report more than just an email address), and / or b) how to severely mess with what she’s trying to do.”

    A higher tech way to track people you email back and forth. It see when they acess a file.

    Requires some work. all you have to do is get them to open a public google doc. It is almost like a word doc. You could say it is your file they need to look at before you can proceed. then you have their ip and more info on location.

    1. first create a google account – free
    2. then this. this is a cached page from google

    http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:6poUM5_AT3MJ:www.labnol.org/internet/office/track-google-docs-visitors-know-when-document-read-opened/3397/+track+people+via+email+images&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=9&gl=us

  32. reservoir_dog says:

    These scammers are unreal – I have heard of similar situations from friends, down to the specific word choices and syntax (“I have available,” “hope that we will find a compromise,” moving to the UK, etc) ocurring in cities all up and down the East coast.

    As others have said, I wouldn’t recommend baiting – report them and move on.

  33. Maulleigh says:

    You know what’s sad? That’s exactly how I found my room on CL, only it was 100% legit. A girl told me I could stay in her room. I cut her a check for $500 and she sent me the keys to the place. Two years later, I’m still here.

    I’m sad that people take advantage of trust like that. Good thing that for the few times I’ve been scammed in my life (and I have) there have been numerous times when I’ve been treated fairly and morally.

  34. bbb111 says:

    stands2reason wrote: “Wiring money for an apartment with the *promise* getting keys…”

    There is often a fake escrow company involved. The last e-mail from the scammer included: “The solution is provided by a company called TNT … which will handle the payment and delivery of the Keys.” TNT is a fake escrow company that has been discussed on many scam-watch sites.

    • theczardictates says:

      @bbb111: TNT is also the name of a legit shipping company, so if you look it up online you could easily be duped into a false sense of security.

  35. Jetgirly says:

    I was apartment-hunting in July. I came across a scam of a different variety. The landlord of a real condo that was really for rent made potential applicants go through an exhaustive application process that involved giving up almost all of your personal information. I don’t think he intended to scam the renter (at least, not immediately), but I think he definitely planned to scam other applicants. I didn’t apply for the apartment after I saw the application, but it included such gems as:

    - a $100 application fee (sadly, this is legal here)
    - emergency contacts (first, middle and last names!)
    - your SIN (SSN in the US, I think)
    - your banking information
    - your credit card number
    - AUTHORIZATION FOR THE LANDLORD TO CHARGE FUNDS TO YOUR CREDIT CARD AS THEY SAW FIT (regardless of whether or not you were the tenant!)

  36. baristabrawl says:

    Holy crap! I just sent $900 to my landlord’s bank account in Nigeria…I wonder when I’ll get the keys to NOPLACE?