Apartment Scammer Wants To Give My $1500 Back – What's The Catch?

Pat tells Consumerist that her son fell for an apartment scam. Looking for a sublet in San Francisco from his home in Massachusetts, he settled on a place and met up with the landlord’s brother, who–what luck!–happened to live in the same area as Pat’s son! Of course, once he moved there, he discovered that his keys didn’t work, since someone else entirely lived in and owned the apartment.

Now that Pat’s son has learned an expensive lesson and is settled in a different apartment, the scammer reached out to offer a refund, in the form of a money order. Should he try to take it, or run to the authorities?

My son fell for an apartment sublet scam on craigslist: the usual, in
March he handed over a $1500 cash deposit for a summer sublet in a
distant city, then found the keys didn’t work when he got there at the
end of May, and someone else owns the apartment.

What’s interesting is that the scammer, instead of simply disappearing
with the money, is now emailing and offering to send him a refund in the
form of a money order. I was just wondering

1) what is the scammer’s angle here?
2) has anyone else come across this before, and how did it turn out?
3) given that the scammer is staying in touch, is there anything we can
do to help the piece of filth get caught?

(now that the young man has a place to stay, his mother is gently but
persistently nagging him to file the police report. I’m suggesting that
he report to the police department in the town where the meeting
occurred and to the FBI’s ICCC (www.ic3.gov) Some have suggested
reporting to the FTC, but it doesn’t seem to fit any of the categories
offered by the FTC’s “complaint wizard.”)

The ICCC is an excellent choice to report this incident to. The FTC has offered consumer alerts about various types of rental scams, and they would probably be delighted to know about the situation. So would the local police. And maybe, just for the hell of it, the police in San Francisco.

My first guess was that the money order refund would be for more than the $1500, and Pat’s son instructed to wire the excess to an accomplice. “Hey,” they might be thinking, “we already scammed this guy once. Let’s try again, this time with more advance fee fraud!” But maybe not.

When I e-mailed her asking whether the scammer indicated that he would be asking for more money, Pat answered:

None of us has replied to the email offering the
refund yet. We’re wondering if the scammer is going to try for more
money, or is trying to delay the time the authorities are alerted, or is
just a sadist and enjoying this game. Unless we can get the authorities
involved, there’s probably no point in us trying to string it–or
them–along. We don’t even know if we’re dealing with one individual or
the entire Russian mafia…

And did the son pay that entire $1500 in cash? No, as it turns out:

Partly cash, partly cashier’s check. He’s trying to get his credit
union to tell him where the cashier’s check was cashed. He met the
“owner’s” “brother” at a coffee shop to pay his deposit and sign the
lease. It was quite an amazing coincidence that the person subletting a
SF apartment has a brother in MA, where we all live.

One good thing that will come of this experience, I **hope**, is that
the next time the parents say, “Gee, this smells a little funny. Did
you check X, Y, and Z?” the young man will listen…

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