My husband and I are overjoyed – the moment we’ve been waiting an entire year for is finally upon us, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. That’s right; the lease on our apartment is up! And it feels like… like, freedom!
We’ve spent the past few weeks tirelessly scouring the city of Houston for the perfect place to live (you know – low cost, large square footage, a location that’s close to everything except crime – that place.) As I suspected, the search has been fairly difficult and time-consuming. But what I didn’t expect was to run into as many attempted scammers as I have.
I'm only a few weeks into the search and I’ve already had to report multiple scammers to various websites. And I’m not just talking about sites like Craigslist, which are infamous for this type of activity. I'm talking about legitimate, well-established real estate sites.
The following is the exact email I received following an inquiry about a four-bedroom home in a decent location that was listed for rent at $850/month. Obviously this sounded too good to be true, but I was curious, so I reached out for more information, and this is what I received:
We are pleased that you have an interest in our house, Our lovely home is still available for lease and we want responsible adults/family who are neat and also believe that they have what it takes to take care of our house as if it were theirs. My wife and I initially had it up for sale but had a change of mind in leasing it out ourselves because the agent that was in charge of our rental property was asking too much of an agent fee and also making it difficult for people who cannot afford the rent, stay away from renting my house.
The reason why our house is up for lease is because I got transferred from my place of work to BALTIMORE MD, I will be away with my family for at least 4 to 5 years because of the love I have for them, I have decided not to sell our house and also assuring them that we only have few years to spend here and will be willing to lease it out to person/family who is willing to assure us of taking absolute care of our home and pay their rent on time. I will start by telling you more in regards me and my family. I have a daughter named Leslie (20yrs) who attends University of BALTIMORE MD as a medical student, she has a lot going for her and she is also down to earth in all that she does to keep us happy and when she is back home on vacation, she also assist her mom in the house work when am at work. I work as a Robotic Programmer & Welder/Fitter here in BALTIMORE MDand got married to a lovely wife who is a member of Joyce Meyer Ministries . We will be very pleased if we can find the right tenant to rent our home, a person who is a clean freak and does not tolerate anything that has to do with dirt... we also would like to know more about you and your family, your renting experience and how long and when you plan moving into our home. These 4 bedrooms and 2 full, 1 partial baths home are very specious and neat 2,405 sqft.
So pls get back to me today.
I await your reply ASAP.
The rental fee is inclusive with utilities and my home available as at this moment
Mr Ronald L Rushing & Family
Now, let’s analyze this attempted scam a bit further:
- One of the first tactics of a con-artist or scammer is to give you a lot of personal information about themselves. This builds a certain level of trust. For example, he’s telling me that he’s a family man who has a good job, and a daughter who’s intelligent, and – to top it off – a wife who is heavily involved in a ministry program. So as you’re reading it, you think, "Wow, these are intelligent, trustworthy, God-fearing people." Not to mention that fact that he wants to make his home affordable for people like myself. What a nice guy!
- The second tactic is the level of detail he included. Con-artists are smart. They know that the more detail they provide (even if it’s as useless as "my daughter helps her mother clean when she’s home from school on vacation."), the more you're going to feel that, not only do you trust them, but you want to reciprocate on some level. For example, I would have likely responded with a spiel about the fact that I also went to school in the Northeast, and that my husband is, in fact, a "neat freak".
- The final tactic this person used is actually just a sly psychological trick. Throughout the course of the email he is essentially putting the pressure on me. By saying that they are “looking for the right tenant” who is a "clean freak" and doesn’t tolerate dirt, he’s trying to make me feel as though I now need to prove to him why I’m the right tenant.
So where does the scam go from here?
Luckily, I never followed up with this guy, because the whole thing just felt a little “off” to me.
In fact, I did a little Googling and couldn’t find any record that he or his family members even exist. And in the new media age we live in, it’s pretty hard to hide from Google. Not to mention that fact that he told me he had a daughter in college. Do you really think that she wouldn’t be on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or Tumblr? Or somewhere in the social stratosphere? It’s possible. But I highly doubt it.
So as I began noting those red flags, I became more aware of some of the other responses flooding my inbox. And they were strikingly similar. The names and locations differed, but the request was always the same: In order to view the property, they have to make sure you’re trustworthy. So their solution is to have you wire them money, and they’ll do the same – in the form of a fake cashier’s check. It’s only after that occurs that they will send you a key to view the house.
Of course the latter never actually happens.
And unfortunately, fake cashier checks and money orders are common, which means banks will cash them, and then you will be held responsible for repaying the funds when the bank discovers the fake a few weeks later.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from my near-scam experience, is that you should always follow your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it is.
In addition, Craigslist offers the following tips to help avoid these types of scams:
- Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service. Anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer.
- Never give out personal financial information, such as your bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal information, etc.
- Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and remember that only a scammer with “guarantee” your transaction.
- Do not rent housing or purchase an expensive item without first seeing it in person. In all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent, and that cheap item does not exist.
- Do not submit to credit checks or background checks for a job or for housing until you have met the agent or landlord in person.