Starting a new job often means moving to a new city, and moving to a new city means the dreaded task of finding an apartment. Craigslist is clearly the preferred method for renters and landlords to connect, and for the most part this system seems to work well. But beware the scams, the Times tells us today, as they abound these days and aren’t as easy to spot or avoid as they used to be.
One of the most pervasive scams is a keys-for-cash gambit. Carried out online where almost all rental transactions begin these days, this ploy separates would-be renters from their money before they so much as set foot inside a dwelling. In this scheme, information and pictures from legitimate rental or sales listings are lifted from other sites and reposted under another name at an eye-poppingly low rent.
The article focuses on New York, but this happens everywhere. My cousin got scammed moving to DC about a year ago by someone trying to rent an apartment that didn’t even exist and lost her deposit and first month’s rent. Casually scanning for two bedroom apartments on Craigslist not three weeks ago, I came across one of those too-good-to-be-true posts: a beautiful condo in the heart of Dupont for $1300, all utilities included. No way, I thought, must be a scam. But still, I convinced myself, sometimes amazing deals pop up—and if this was one of them, I didn’t want to miss out. So I emailed.
I got a response about a day later from “Nicole Miller,” who told a version of the story referenced in the Times article: in oddly stilted English, “Nicole” said she was the owner of the apartment but now lived in the UK working as a construction engineer. She didn’t have any way to show the apartment except to mail the keys, so I should email back and she’d fill me in on the details of how this would work. She also sent along 10 pictures of what looked to be a truly amazing apartment (one of which is above).
At this point I knew it must be a scam, but I was still intrigued to see what would happen. So I sent a very vague email back, betraying no personal information, and said I’d like to know how to proceed. “Nicole” emailed right back, telling me in lurid detail how I was to set up a “CASE ID# at eBay Company,” an account into which I was to deposit $2600, at which time she’d ship the keys and I’d be able to view the apartment at my leisure and decide whether I wanted it. If yes (and she was sure I’d want it), the lovely people at eBay Company would release my money to her. If not, the money came back to me and I was to ship the keys back to the UK. I decided it was best to cut off communication with “Nicole” at this point.
I also decided to Google her and found that she owns a very similar looking apartment in Santa Monica too.
Anyhow, no larger career message here, other than: if a career change or new job takes you to a new place and you need to find a new apartment (or you’re just looking for a new apartment in general), be careful and beware the scammers.