Even with all the apps and realty services available, Craigslist is still great resource for finding an apartment. However, scams still exist – I fell for one myself. Two weeks into fruitlessly searching for an apartment, I spied a posting that seemed to offer a ray of hope: an apartment-rental agency that promised access to hundreds of exclusive listings and brokers for $200.
I signed up immediately and received a list and web access to their database.
My first indication something was wrong happened when I called a non-working number. After that I spoke with a broker who told me the particular listing I was calling about hadn’t been available for months.
Now warning bells were going off. The next broker I spoke with gently explained, “I’m afraid you’ve been scammed.” She proceeded to tell me about companies that make up lists with old numbers, old or non-existent listings and then charge a small amount for “exclusive” access.
The same rep who signed me up refused to give a refund, claiming that the listings’ availability were beyond the company’s control and I just had to move faster.
I decided to call them out on Craigslist. It was the perfect place to execute this kind of scam but perhaps they weren’t expecting anyone to bite back on it, either.
I created a posting with the company’s name and “SCAMMERS” in the title. In the post I included all the pertinent details: the woman I dealt with, the company’s address and a description of my experience, as well as their current status with the BBB (they were under investigation, I found out). I also invited people to contact me if they wanted further evidence.
The next day, I received a phone call from an agent at the company, who offered to give me my money back if I took the posting down. I agreed and met with him the next day, but left the posting up anyway: I didn’t want anyone else fall for their scheme.
Some time later I was on that floor to visit another company and noticed they were out of business.
If you learn how to use Craigslist properly, you can find a great apartment! If you do use the service, below is a how-to for searching and also some tips to avoid being scammed.
Using Craigslist effectively is a combination of common sense, preparation, persistence and determination. Even after the ordeal described above, I found a beautiful studio in the Upper East Side – with a great landlord – and it was my home for over two years. The one I live in now was also found through Craigslist; the landlord posted the listing herself. Here’s some tips on how to use it to your advantage:
1) Have your paperwork ready.
At an open house, I’m anticipating competition, especially if it’s in a popular neighborhood or the rent is a steal – or both. So I arrive armed: two letters of reference, a copy of my credit report and copies of bank statements (with account information and social security number redacted, of course).
2) Be persistent and positive.
Great listings – regardless of where you live – can rent out as quickly as they are posted. Don’t be discouraged if the place is already gone before you’ve had a chance to look. Ask the landlord or agent to keep you in mind for future listings or offer to meet so she can get a sense of who you are. If the landlord likes you, she might tell you about an upcoming apartment before opening it up to the world of Craigslist and beyond. Or keep looking; chances are, you’ll find something better.
3) Know what you’re looking for, and figure out what you will compromise on.
I’ve lived in enough apartments and in enough scenarios to know, for example, that I no longer want to live with a roommate, want windows in every room and prefer rent-stabilized. I managed to meet all three requirements with my current one-bedroom apartment, but the bathroom doesn’t have a sink. I’ve learned to live with it, especially since my rent only goes up nominally every year and I don’t have to deal with anyone else in my sun-drenched little home.
How to avoid being scammed
Here are some tips that will help you avoid getting scammed.
1) Don’t give away any financial information online or wire money.
No legitimate business will ever ask you for your financial information without meeting you first. If the poster asks you right away for a routing number, bank account information or wants you to wire money, it’s a scam.
2) Don’t accept cashier’s/certified checks or money orders.
These are most likely fake, and even worse, you are responsible for the amount. A common scam is sending two to three times the amount agreed upon, then asking the victim to wire the excess money back.
3) Be wary of vague requests and poor grammar/spelling.
If the post itself or the email exchange has an unusual amount of or odd spelling/grammar mistakes and/or excessive capitalization, it’s a warning that you should not ignore. For example, if the person you contact responds with “Hello,how are yu? My nameisDavid and Im happy 2 rent 2 U”, chances are, it’s a scam.
4) Don’t agree to a deal without seeing the place first.
if the apartment sounds too good to be true (e.g., below market rent, low rent for the number of amenities available), it probably is. And if the landlord or managing agent tells you it’s a hot property and you need to send money right away to secure the listing, it’s definitely a scam.
5) You should be able to meet with the manager or landlord face-to-face.
Be wary if someone waffles about a request to meet first or claims to be “out of town” but still wants money, or if a person claims to act as a representative for someone who’s out of town. If you fork over any money and suddenly that “representative” is gone, you’ve been had – that rental never existed.
Rentalscams.org is also an excellent resource: it breaks down scams by type and as well as warning signs to look out for each one.
Scams – Craigslist.org
Find an apartment on Craigslist scam free – Bankrate.com
How to find an awesome apartment on Craigslist – Gizmodo