Searching for an Apartment

With the poor economic market, loss of employment, and rising rate of foreclosures, many
people are again seeking houses or apartments to sustain them until they can get back on their
feet. However, due to the fact that many people have had their credit ruined during the crisis,
they have come to rely on unconventional means in order to qualify for housing. This does not
come without risks and many con artists have continued to develop multiple ways of taking
advantage of the situation.

One example is the Nigerian 419 scheme that has been around since the 1980′s. In this scheme
criminals search websites for homes or apartments for sale and then post them under their own
email addresses only indicating that the residence is for rent instead of sale. Many of these
can be found on sites like Craigslist. Like with many bogus ads, potential renters cannot see
the property due to various reasons such as the owners being out of town. To entice potential
victims further these properties are often listed below market rental rates. Many others are
tricked into running a credit report only to find out they have be directed to a website that
charges an exorbitant fee from which the person sending them there gets a kickback. Here’s a
story from one of our readers in New York that explains how easy it is to become a victim in a
part of the US that has the highest rents and least availability.

My roommate and I wanted to move from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York. I knew I always
wanted to live there because there’s always something to do and I got a job interning at a
fashion company there. There are many horror stories on the web about people that have been
scammed when trying to rent an apartment so we went into the process very cautious and weary.
Although most listings we saw contained pictures that looked like they had been copied from
other websites (a definite red flag), the one we chose had pictures that looked like they had been
taken by a digital camera. We were looking for a 2 bedroom apartment and found this place on
Craigslist. This was a surprise and we were elated because we never thought we could afford a
place this size that was in a good location on the Lower East Side in De Lancey. We became
concerned we found out the monthly rent was only $1200, but we were so excited we just figured
that this was a neighborhood that was on the fringes of the better part of town and, because we
were new, just figured that the rent quoted reflected what other people in the area paid. Boy,
were we ever wrong about that. Because we were both in school and didn’t have the time and
didn’t want to ask our friends to take time from their schedules to see the apartment first, we
never got to see it and failed to check into specific information about the new landlord.
However, we did contact him several times through emails and phone calls. He was very nice,
spoke English, and seemed to be legitimate. Unlike most scams he also didn’t ask for money
through Western Union or PayPal either. This would have definitely been a red flag. Since he
asked for a direct deposit we figured that if we had any problems we could always work it out
directly with the bank. We ended up depositing $2600 in all that went toward first, last, and
deposit. He agreed to payments until we could come up with the full amount. My roommate
became suspicious when she tried to call him to set the time and place for picking up the keys
and seeing the place for the first time. She couldn’t reach him either by phone or through
emails. He also didn’t answer the text messages she sent. A few days later he ended up emailing
her saying that his email had been hacked and apologizing. He asked that we continue the
payments until the full amount was covered, but by then we realized we were being scammed.

My advice to other readers is to avoid Craigslist because there’s no accountability. Craigslist
can’t be penalized because they have a disclaimer for anyone using the site that says they can’t
be held responsible for those that become victims of scams. It’s also important to actually take
the time to go see a place before you make a commitment. This includes going inside to look
around. If the landlord doesn’t have a key, be suspicious. There are so many scams out there
today, the best way to ensure you are protected is to contact a reliable company that specializes
in rentals and work only through them, but by all means don’t rely on the internet. It just isn’t
safe anymore.