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.)

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