How to Avoid Apartment and House Rental Scams on Craigslist
The time comes when you've just had enough of your neighbor's late-night "Rock Band" sessions. Or, maybe you're just tired of your roommate stealing your peanut butter. Whatever the reason, you know when it's time to move to a new apartment. Today, finding an apartment online is easier than ever before. Most people turn to Craigslist.org for their rental needs. Unfortunately, the popular website is under siege from malicious and potentially financially disastrous scams. This guide aims to provide you some information to help protect you and your money.
The following describes some of the common scams you can come across when searching for an apartment or house rental on Craigslist.
On a Mission, Be Right Back!
This scam is a classic that I have witnessed for myself. The scam begins when you find a great looking property on Craigslist. Nothing about it really sticks out as a scam, and the posting looks legitimate. Generally, the listing lacks a phone number, so you must send an email. After a day or two, you receive an email that may or may not be understandable, depending on the intelligence of the scammer. In my case, the email was poorly worded and hard to even comprehend. The supposed home's “owner” was out of the country on a religious mission and explained he had been praying for someone to rent his house. Surprisingly, in this particular example, the man didn't ask me to send any money initially. He did, however, ask a series of bizarre questions and gave me a long distance number to call. I imagine the request for money was forthcoming.
Usually, scams of this nature feature real pictures and real listings. The scammer saves up a collection of listings, including pictures, so that the ad looks real. You can even drive by the actual apartment/house to see it for yourself. However, this is most definitely a scam. Usually, these scams are perpetrated on people who do not live in the immediate area and are more willing to rent a unit without seeing it in person.
I Don't Actually Own This
Some scammers go to the trouble of putting on a pretty good charade to get your money. You find a listing, and meet the scammer in person at the unit. Everything checks out, so you pull out your checkbook and hand over your money. Unfortunately, the scammer never even had the authority to rent the place. Sometimes, the scammer may have even stolen the keys of an empty unit to accomplish this charade. In other cases, the scammer simply rented the unit themselves from the true landlord by using false information. By the time you've figured out what happened, the scammer is long gone.
Yes, I Like Stealing Your Information
Identity thieves use Cragislist's apartment and house rentals section to get your sensitive personal details for their own malicious purposes. Some of these fraudulent listings entice people to hand over enough personal data so that the scammers can use the unspecting individual's bank account information. This is the sort of thing you definitely want to be careful of when using Craigslist for anything.
Signs to Look For
The following is a list of signs that could mean that the listing you're looking at is actually a fake:
There is absolutely truth to the old saying, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” A five-bedroom apartment in New York City with gold bathtubs with a rent of a mere $500 a month is not realistic.
Wire Money Request
Most scammers rely on wire transfers to get your money. Wiring money leaves you little recourse if something goes wrong.
Too Much Personal Information
Craigslist users who asks for too much personal and sensitive information up front could be looking to steal your information.
If the listing offers a long-winded story about why the apartment is for rent, it might be a scam. For example, some scam listings talk about how incredible the apartment is and then detail a long story about having to suddenly travel out of the country on some emergency.
Sometimes, descriptions in a fraudulent posting do not not match the listing's pictures. The scammer may even be silly enough use a snowy picture of a house in Colorado in an attempt to pass it off as a Las Vegas home. Sometimes the address given on the advertisement might not even exist.
If you do find a posting you believe to be a scam, flag it as prohibited on the Craigslist website to prevent other users from falling into a trap.
How to Avoid Scams
So, what can you do to avoid apartment rental scams and fraud on craigslist?
When renting a house or apartment, you should only deal with local people you can meet in person. Also, only rent a unit you can see in person. If you let a suspicious apartment pass you by, rest assured that there will always be another apartment. It's not worth forking your money over on the rare possibility that the owner might truly be on a life-saving mission to save the penguins in Antarctica.
Guard Your Money and Information
Do not go through with a rental that requires you to wire money upfront without ever even meeting the owner. Don't send your personal information off to an email address. Craigslist is not eBay where you have protections and regulations. It is simply an online meeting place people for people looking to sell, rent or buy. You have to protect yourself and your money.
Do Your Research
Always read through every Craigslist post with a critical eye. Remember, scammers are counting on you to not look at the listing closely. Research everything the advertisement mentions, including the address and any names. If it's an apartment, investigate the company that owns and manages the building. If you're trying to lease a sublet, talk to the management company first.
You can also try copying and pasting some of the phrases used in a suspicious listing into a search engine. Frequently, scammers will simply copy and paste their work around the Internet. In some cases, you might even find forums and other websites discussing the very scammer you've found.
Renting an apartment or house from Cragislist is not an easy task. There are plenty of scammers online looking for a way to get your money. However, it's still very possible to find a great rental on Craigslist if you're willing to take the time to carefully look at each listing. Good luck and don't give up!