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)