Though scammers are despicable, there’s something fascinating about a good scam. Or a bad scam that nonetheless often works. So I was interested, when we were looking for apartments in the last few weeks, to twice run into the Craigslist Apartment Scam.
My wife found a juicy-sounding apartment and asked if it was available. We got this reply:
Thanks for your swift response regarding my property,the house is currently vacant and it is available for move in. The rent fee is $900 per month and the security deposit is $700,Utilities like washer,dryer,gas,electricity,Dishwasher,Electric Stove, Fridge are included in the rental fee and pets are allowed,i am a Construction engineer and i am currently out of the Country to Head a construction project in West Africa and my stay here will be for 5 years so i would love a Long term lease. I want you to drive by the property and view the exterior and i assure you that you will love it,as soon as you have done that get back to me ASAP so we can proceed further. Address of the house: [**] N Marion Street #1, Oak Park IL 60302 RENTALS APPLICATION FIRST NAME:__________________ MIDDLE NAME: _________________ LAST NAME: __________________ PROFESSION: ________________ HOME PHONE (____) __________ (CELL)PHONE (____) __________ (WORK)PHONE (____) __________ KIDS _____ (YES/NO), HOW MANY ________ PRESENT ADDRESS: _____________________ CITY: _______________ STATE: ______________ ZIP CODE: ____________ HOW LONG DO YOU INTEND STAYING? ____________ WHEN DO YOU INTEND MOVING IN? ______________ HOW SOON CAN YOU HAVE THE DEPOSIT PAYMENT SENT TO ME___________________________ HOW SOON DO YOU WANT TO RECEIVE THE KEYS AND DOCUMENTS OF THE HOUSE___________________________ Await your response with the filled Rental Application form. You can also reach me at [**] or [**] Thanks [**]
The fascinating thing is that though the scam is obvious, it’s only subtly outrageous. The address is real, and Googling it, I find that it actually was offered for rental recently— but at a price of $1650. (The story deepens: I also found another scam listing of the exact same unit, for $1150— this time including such incredible amenities as a sauna AND jacuzzi which are not present in the real listing.)
(You can count the scam signals yourself, but I’ll point out a minor but very telling one for an Oak Park resident: the ad mentions generous utilities but not parking. Ads for non-scam housing here always mention the parking situation.)
Another ad yielded the exact same e-mail, while yet another elicited a similar one but the same damn address. (The original ads didn’t list the location.) I’ll just quote the sob story part:
Thanks for your email. The house is still available. I decided to rent the house because we are going to spend more time here in West Africa, about 4 years... Let me start by introducing myself.I must confess that I am very very new in this landlord business. However, My name is [**]. I own the house located at ([**] N Marion Street #1, Oak Park IL 60302). Due to my job as a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church International, I am presently serving as Area Financial Executive (AFE) with the United Methodist Church in Lagos, West Africa.I am responsible for receiving distribution of funds for various UMC projects in West Africa , and all related works with other mission personnel. my current home is in the vineyard of the Lord in BENIN West Africa.I spent less time in the States so I could not get a hold on any Realtor to handle this rent issue, although it was when I knew how long we are going to stay in Africa that I decided to rent out the house. However, the initial plan was to sale out the House. which I tried, but sometimes the agents inflates the prize and it takes longer to sell. because of this reason and more we need a responsible person (With good credit) that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money , but want it to be clean and for you to take it as if it were yours.
Wow, you gotta trust a church person, right?
Sadly, this scammer has given in to the temptation to overwrite, and the result is a story that’s far less believable. The Construction engineer who was out of the Country I could almost buy, but not the poor woman who owns a house but is unable to find someone who can sell it.
If anyone is not quite grasping how the scam works, the clue is in the hints about quickly sending a security deposit. We didn’t respond to these so we don’t know how Mr. or Mrs. [**] proceed further, but the idea is that they get you to send the security deposit, and then disappear. I don’t know someone agrees to send money for an apartment they haven’t actually been inside, but if only one in a hundred people are that dumb, they’re in business. (Public service announcement: If you are that dumb, don’t do that.)