Every fall, thousands descend upon Ann Arbor and its environs, seeking student housing. Many end up searching Craigslist for options. Unfortunately, some of the so-called options turn out to be scams. According to a 2016 NYU study, researchers reviewed more than 2 million for-rent Craigslist posts and found 29,000 fake listings.
My own research on the subject was accidental, and a bit more personal.
It happened to me, it can happen to you too
Recently, I went on a housing search on Ann Arbor’s Craigslist site and, after scouring through rows of houses and apartments, I found two, separate, beautiful, downtown homes to rent that stood out: they were much cheaper than the rest.
I emailed the contact connected to the house and received the following email in return:
My house is Available for Rent and Move in ASAP. I relocated from my Home 4 Months ago when I got a better job out of state..I’m giving the rent out low because I just need someone to help take care of the house. It’s not about the money..It’s about finding someone that will take care of the house like they own it….PS:- I’m no longer selling so kindly ignore the for sale sign in the yard because i would like to create a good landlord tenant relationship so i’m putting it up for rent to get a serious tenant to rent the house and take care of my property which there will be no application fee as i am now managing the property as the owner.
“Wow!” I thought, “Lucky me, I better move quickly or this will go fast!”
But then I received a similar email from the second posting and something didn’t seem right. I searched the address for the rental house and came up with a Trulia and Realtor.com listing for it under a local realty group.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is…”
Several follow-up phone calls later, I found out the house actually was for sale, that the sellers of the house were NOT relocated out of state, and that the scammer had basically posted the photos from the realty listing on Craigslist.
The scam uses the cheaper price to lure unsuspecting renters into filling out an application complete with sensitive personal information, such as names, addresses and social security number. Then the prospect is asked to send money to “secure” the agreement.
Though such practices clearly are not legal, according to the Ann Arbor Police Department, unless there’s a crime to report, there isn’t really anything that can be done to stop the cons from posting.
So , according to the Better Business Bureau, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself when looking for housing options via Craigslist:
Better Business Bureau’s Guide on How to Spot a Rental Scam:
- Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card to pay a security deposit or first month’s rent. Such payments are the same as sending cash – once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
- Watch out for deals that sound too good. Scammers lure in targets by promising low rents, great amenities and other perks.
- See the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm it’s as advertised.
- Don’t fall for the overseas landlord story. Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.
- Search for the same ad in other cities. If you find the same ad listed elsewhere, that’s a huge red flag.
- If you do find a listing that is more-than-likely a scam, flag it on the Craigslist site. There are instructions on exactly how to do so at: www.craigslist.org/about/scams. You’ll be doing yourself — and the broader housing community — a great service.