How Does the Cheap Apartment Scam Work on Craigslist?

By Marissa Meyer

A legitmate landlord should be willing to show you the property.
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Craigslist is a useful resource for potential renters looking for the perfect apartment at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, con artists have tapped into the vulnerability of renters on the hunt for affordable housing. Rental scams are often carried out on Craigslist since it is a highly viewed, free service. Before you get excited about a listing that seems too good to be true, make sure you're familiar with the cheap apartment scam so you can watch for red flags.

The Bait

Most scammers hope to receive as many responses as possible before victims realize they've been had. For this reason, con artists posing as landlords often post ads on Craigslist featuring desirable rentals in large cities with competitive markets. Pictures and descriptions will make the property seem exceptional compared to other options in the same price range. Sometimes the scammer may offer an explanation for the incredible deal, such as a recent divorce or a sudden job transfer. Although the culprit will usually be able to produce pictures, he will typically refuse requests for showings, requiring that renters commit sight-unseen to secure the reduced price.

Money Exchange

The con artist posing as a landlord will typically ask respondents to send money to cover a security deposit and first month's rent. Although it is common for landlords to request funds for these purposes, a scammer may set off red flags when he asks that the funds be wired, or requests bank account numbers and other personal information.

The Reality

Con artists posing as landlords rarely actually own the property being advertised on Craigslist. Victims will find out later that the rental does not exist, or that its legitimate owner has no knowledge of the posting. Unfortunately, many eager renters often send deposits and/or sensitive information per their correspondence with the scammer on Craigslist. Financial losses are difficult or impossible to recover because con artists request that funds be wired and use false names to keep from being located. In some cases, criminals have made off with more than $60,000 by collecting funds from multiple respondents.

Protecting Yourself

The Craigslist terms of use place emphasis on using the classified site only for local dealings with individuals you can meet in person. If a potential landlord does not want to meet with you or allow you to see the property, the rental offer may not be legitimate. Requests that deposits or rent be wired are also red flags. Anyone who asks you to only send funds through a wire service is likely a scammer, according to Craigslist. Since your personal information can be just as valuable as money, Craigslist recommends that you hold off on credit or background checks until you've met the landlord in person. Request to see the landlord's identification during your meeting. An online search of his name and a call to the local register of deeds can help you confirm that he is not associated with any known scams, and that he owns the property being advertised.