When searching for the perfect apartment to rent in DC, a healthy dose of skepticism can help you avoid being scammed as sometimes the deals on rental resources like Craigslist are just too good to be true.
Take this gem for instance: a three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse just south of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown for the bargain price of $1,200 per month. To the out-of-towner, this looks like a good deal; to the seasoned DC renter, it looks unbelievable considering that the average rental rate for a three-bedroom apartment in Georgetown for the month of July was between $3,500 and $4,000. Regardless of this discrepancy, the Craigslist advertisement below is certainly enticing.
Too bad this is a scam. A Google search revealed that the home is actually on the market to be sold, not rented, by Washington Fine Properties. Someone had lifted the photographs from a real estate website and incorporated them into a fraudulent post to try to acquire personal information or money from apartment seekers.
We replied to the post and asked if we might be able to see the apartment and ask a few follow-up questions. We received an e-mail, a portion of which is included below, from a person claiming to be the landlord:
The email has a number of obvious red flags that should tip you off that this is a scam:
1) Misspelled email address. The email address has been blurred, but the first name of the supposed landlord is Michae (no l). While this could be sloppiness on the part of the landlords, it also suggests this email account may be temporary or fraudulent.
2) International contact information/landlords. Again, the contact information at the bottom of the email has been blurred, but the lack of a U.S.-based number is a red flag. Craigslist has a warning at the top of every post that advises against entering into an arrangement with a landlord who is out of the country and cannot meet you in person. These kinds of scams are unfortunately common and potentially harmful to unsuspecting apartment seekers. You can read a few recent news reports here and here of similar types of scams.
3) Poor grammar. While this is hardly a perfect indicator of a scam, it should make you look more skeptically at the post. As a landlord, opening up your home to a stranger is not a small decision and legitimate landlords will often agonize over the precise wording of their posts in order to encourage the best possible candidates for tenancy.
4) Landlord does not grant access to the unit. There is a lot of information absent from the application form that is typically requested by landlords, such as the request of Social Security number, references, and income levels. But one line in particular should raise an immediate red flag: “When do you intend to drive by the property?” This implies that as a prospective tenant you are only permitted to drive by and not allowed inside the home until you have sent a deposit. Indeed, a follow-up email confirmed that the “landlord” had exactly that in mind. Needless to say, do not send money to anyone who will not let you inside an apartment, or cannot furnish proof of ownership.
We contacted the real estate agent representing the property, and the post was taken down soon after. But countless more like it are posted everyday. So when scouring Craigslist for that perfect rental, be careful and remember the old adage: If it seems to good to be true…
This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/this_is_a_craigslist_rental_scam/2338.
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