Another Craiglist apartment scam?
September 28, 2010 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Is this an apartment scam? A friend of mine is looking for an apartment in San Francisco. He found a posting on Craigslist and the price and location work for him but there are a few warning flags.

He's actually gone to meet up with the poster who works for an LLC in Sacramento. She showed him the apartment and he filled in an application and provided credit info and references.
Here's the fishy part, she wants a cashier's check in $2000 prior to printing the lease. Her reasoning:
- They want to know that the buyer is serious
- The lease is 40 pages and they don't want to print it if the buyer isn't serious
- A Cashier's Check won't take a long time to clear so they can get through the process quickly

Once he signs the lease she'll send it over to the company in Sacramento and then she'll give him the keys.
Aside from the cashier's check everything seems legit. He's actually seen the apartment and met the woman which are usually the big red flags.

I did a search for the LLC and I found them on that showed they were the owner of a property in SF.

He's pretty desperate and is planning on going through with it tomorrow. Should I stop him?
posted by simplethings to Computers & Internet (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by fshgrl at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

That sounds insane to me. If it's not a scam, it's still insane.

A Cashier's Check is pretty close to handing someone a pile of cash. Don't hand people cash in exchange for anything except a lease and the keys. (I have personally always been allowed to use a personal check in situations like this. If I bounce a check they know where I am: in the apartment. If she takes the money and runs, your friend is screwed.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:01 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've heard of a similar scam in which the person offering the apartment isn't actually in a position to rent it. Smells dubious.
posted by Paragon at 8:02 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

1. Any time a craigslist person specifies the method of payment (cashier's check, money order, western union, etc) is a time to cue the alarm bells.

2. Any legitimate business would eat the cost of 40 pages of printing.

3. Yes, stop your friend.
posted by phunniemee at 8:02 PM on September 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

Can't he just show her he has it, but not give it to her until the lease is signed?
posted by amro at 8:03 PM on September 28, 2010

They could also just email the lease to him and ask him to print it.
posted by amro at 8:03 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe MeMail me the address and LLC name? Also, this woman's phone number, the one she used in the CL advert?

I'll get back to you asap.

I am 51% leaning towards a scam. But. She could just be an idiot.

The cashiers check is normal. It's the rest that sounds dodgy somehow.
posted by jbenben at 8:05 PM on September 28, 2010

Unless the lease is being printed on the original Acts of Confederation, I can't see why $2000 in practically-cash is necessary to offset five bucks worth of printing at Kinkos. Scam scam scam.
posted by griphus at 8:06 PM on September 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

More details. One of the suggestions is to contact the building manager to verify, and that seems like a reasonable action here.
posted by Paragon at 8:07 PM on September 28, 2010

Yes, agreed. Tell your friend to offer to print the lease out himself. How could they say no to that unless it's a scam?
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2010

Additionally, for the love of god make sure he gets an official receipt if he does go through with it.
posted by lizbunny at 8:11 PM on September 28, 2010

What the hell is even in a 40 page lease? That is weird. I lived in an historic building in NYC, and while I thought their lease rider was epically long, the whole thing was still only maybe 10 pages total.
posted by milarepa at 8:11 PM on September 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

Do they want him to bring a cashier's check for $2000? Or to actually give them the check, i.e. pay them two thousand dollars, before printing the lease?

Because those are two very, very different things.

It's one thing to require him to bring a check so that they can make sure he has the funds -- it's still a little weird, and I'd make sure that I met in a legitimate (not short-term, not mislabeled, etc.) office or in a public place, but that's maybe understandable in a pinch. Maybe they've had a lot of flaky would-be tenants who couldn't scrape together the required deposit. Although OTOH, 40 pages of printed material is less than a dollar's worth even on an inkjet, so that's not much of an excuse, and frankly it's pretty unprofessional.

All in all I'd probably go if they seemed legit, but if they asked me to hand over that check before their signature was on the lease? Oh hell no. If they're going for a drug-deal-esque "let me see the money" thing ... I guess I'd let them look without touching from across a desk.

I'd probably also bring a friend along and bag the whole thing if it seemed sketchy.

Also ... I'd ask my bank about whether they would honor a stop-payment request on a cashier's check. If not, I would probably get a USPS Money Order instead of the cashier's check. You can stop a thief from getting payment of a USPS MO, if you report it stolen quickly, so in that sense it would be preferable. (I use USPS MOs instead of cashiers checks almost exclusively, although I do it because my bank doesn't have any branches near me and thus it's 2 days and a big FedEx bill to get one. When I need non-cash secure payment, I have them raise my ATM limit, pull cash, and then buy a MO from the Post Office. Feel free to let your friend know about this excuse if he feels it might be useful.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:15 PM on September 28, 2010

- I wouldn't give out one of my blank leases (even though I use a standard form available online) I do have a copy in my office, though, for someone to read through.

- Standard CA lease is less than 5 pages. 40 pages??

- Cashiers checks are standard. But keys are exchanged for the signed lease + check. Check for keys, keys for check. That's it. I'm unsure of this additional "process" the woman is referring to. That's why I think she maybe be legit, but new to the gig or something

- Your friend should get a fraud alert service. He could ask for his application back, but if they are criminals, likely they'd make a copy. So. Fraud Alert Service.

- I like the idea of contacting the building manager. I might go to the building tonight and hope to run into a tenant, ask them who they call for building stuff, etc. See if it matches the info from the woman.

- Your friend should contact the police if it is a scam.
posted by jbenben at 8:19 PM on September 28, 2010

... stop-payment request on a cashier's check.

A cashier's check is as good as cash. The money is drawn from your account as soon as it's printed, and it'd be like stopping payment on... cash. This sounds like a scam.

If you've looked up the LLC in Sacramento, presumably you have their contact information. Have your friend call them up directly to verify that the woman actually works for them (it really doesn't sound like it though) and that this is not an unusual request.
posted by halogen at 8:23 PM on September 28, 2010

Suspicious as hell. If it's a 40 page lease (implausible), a legit landlord would give him a copy so he can read it ahead of time rather than having to sit there while he reads it the next day. So, either it's a scam (most likely) or they're real landlords trying to pressure him into signing a 40 page document unread, which is a red flag in itself.

Get him to call local police department and ask if they've heard anything about this.

In the linked article about a scam in New Zealand, one of the people who got ripped off had the good sense to take pictures of the scammers -- tell your friend if he goes through with it, be sure he gets nice clear photos of the woman to give to the cops later.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on September 28, 2010

This totally sounds like a scam to me. (Or at least really odd.)

What proof is there that she really works at this LLC? Do they have a phone number? He should call and ask to speak to this woman or verify her employment.

Also, the thing you found just showed that they owned some property or the actual property your friend saw an apartment in?

Double also, 40 pages? What the frak is in there? Also seriously, they own property in SF and can't spare 20 pages (double-sided!)? I dunno.
posted by grapesaresour at 8:25 PM on September 28, 2010

I would try to get in touch with the San Francisco Tenants Union. They may be familiar with this LLC or this type of scam (if it is one.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:28 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no comments on the rest of it, but my townhouse's lease, also in the San Francisco Bay Area, is at least 30 pages and may well be 50. Initialing every one whenever we renew is really fun, let me tell you.
posted by wintersweet at 8:44 PM on September 28, 2010

I also think this is fishy. I would have your friend call the LLC in Sacramento and verify that this person is an agent of the company who can indeed rent the apartment. Same red flags as everyone else: give me $2K in cash and I'll print the 40 page (!!) lease is weird. I'm wondering if the explanation will be, "OK now I'll go and print it and meet you at such-and-such place tomorrow".

Good for you for looking out for your friend!
posted by sfkiddo at 8:49 PM on September 28, 2010

Here's the fishy part, she wants a cashier's check in $2000 prior to printing the lease.

Scam. Next.
posted by pompomtom at 8:54 PM on September 28, 2010

Follow Ratto's Law.
posted by otolith at 8:54 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would call the "broker" or "agent" and tell her you are getting the check. THen when I got the check I would call her back and tell her you have it, but there is a trust thing going on here. They want you to show good faith and get the check, you need her to demonstrate good faith by either giving you the keys when you hand over the check or prove to you that they are legit and able to deliver on the apartment.

I happen to think it is 62-38 that this lady is for real. To me, there are two issues. Obviously if it is a scam, you're out $2,000. Two, even if she is for real, there will always be an adversarial relationship between you and the landlord; it will be a Ronald Reagan relationship. Trust but verify.

I like the idea of taking her picture and of stopping by the building asking for the super. I would even ask the agent for the super's number to see if she is dodgy or willing to give it up. I would also ask for a pdf copy of the lease via email.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:05 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sounds like the scam used in Garrison Keillor's Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance.
posted by oreofuchi at 9:13 PM on September 28, 2010

I've signed multiple leases in San Francisco and never had to give more than a personal check.

This is a total scam.

There's been a lot of apartment scams in the news recently here.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:19 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is legit, albeit somewhat odd. She showed him the apartment. What type of scammer would have keys to an empty apartment? That'd be pretty easy to track down if you got scammed. I would Google the woman's name. She might come up on linkedin or zabasearch if the name isn't super common.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 9:34 PM on September 28, 2010

When we signed a SF lease there we had to do a cashiers check. That by itself didn't seem weird but it was through a property management company with an office and a website and a resident manager. Lease is maybe 5 pages with the pet rider.

What seems weird is having access to read the lease being contingent on basically being handed a pile of cash. Surely your friend would like to read the lease and make sure it doesn't contain a lot of weird stuff? You can also check yelp ratings to see if others have rented from this person / company.
posted by oneear at 9:39 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

The lease form for the house I'm renting (which is a San Francisco form) is over 20 pages including the addenda, so 40 isn't completely insane although on the high side.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:39 PM on September 28, 2010

OK so a cashier's check is basically cash, but paying cash for first and last month's rent isn't particularly weird. The thing to do is say "I have the cashier's check and I can exchange it with you tomorrow for a signed lease and keys at the apartment."

That's the absolute only way I would do this - on site, exchanging signed lease and keys for money.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:08 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think this is legit, albeit somewhat odd. She showed him the apartment. What type of scammer would have keys to an empty apartment?

I would have thought this before I read about this lady too. There are, apparently, all kinds of scams.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:17 PM on September 28, 2010

This sounds a lot like this scam.

I think your friend should get a photo of the scammer (since they've already been ripped off for their credit information), and report them to the police and FTC.
posted by Laen at 10:26 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few examples of recent scams where the renter did meet a person and see the property, but it turns out the "landlord" wasn't really the landlord:

rental scam in NYC (May 2010) - scammer take deposit on apartment, says tenant must get keys through roundabout method, the keys end up not opening the door

rental scam in San Diego (Aug 2007) - scammers get access to empty houses for sale, post them to Craigslist posing as legitimate landlords of those houses, meet renters and show them around house, take cash deposit, disappear.

rental scam in DC (July 2010) - scammers arrange for innocent 3rd party like cleaning lady to go to vacant house/apartment for sale; cleaning lady finds it locked and calls scammers, scammers convince her to break a back window to get in; would-be tenants are told to give money to the cleaning lady and they'll get keys later. (in this case, no signed lease, but it wouldn't be hard to include a signed lease with fake landlord information)

rental scam described by Wikipedia
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have neighbors in the same building? Why not knock on a door and ask them your questions?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:15 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

In July, I lost $5100 to a Craigslist renters' scam in San Francisco. (See: and:

Like the above, the person who I "rented" from met me at the property. (She was the person linked in the artcle by @grapesaresour) She posed as the landlord, but was in fact a renter about to vacate. We met her in the apartment on three occasions, as well as once at our apartment. We signed a lease, and the name on the lease matched the one listed by the city, Trulia, Zwillow, etc. (a family trust, that she said she was a part of). I'm jaded, but this sounds very fishy to me too.

I came away from the experience really wishing there was some sort of escrow service for renters.

In lieu of that, however, I think if you're renting you need to either firmly establish ownership, or go through a property management agency before handing over any money. Definitely knock on a neighbor's door in the building. If it seems even marginally fishy, there is likely a good reason for that. That the "owner" is asking for a cashier's check before handing over a lease, especially, seems weird.

And in any case, a 40 page lease? Fuck that. You don't want to rent from any landlord that's enough of a dick to require a 40 page lease.
posted by emptyage at 12:06 AM on September 29, 2010 [12 favorites]

Probably a scam, but why not ask for at least a preview of the lease in PDF? Can't say it costs money to do that.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:35 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What type of scammer would have keys to an empty apartment? That'd be pretty easy to track down if you got scammed.

Cleaners, landscapers, whatever, anyone could get these keys. How can you prove anyone gave X the key? Its a false flag scam. By pointing to a legitimate company, you are taken in by the legitimacy of the company without asking if she is actually their agent. As for easy to track down? Every scuzzy check cashing place will look the other way. Its free money and instant for them to convert it to cash.

I'd call the cops, specifically the fraud squad. Ask them what they think. They may want to net this woman.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:36 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

$2000 for 40 sheets of paper. Tell her he can print the lease himself if they're worried about the trees, and on recycled paper.
posted by Neekee at 7:25 AM on September 29, 2010

It sounds weird. He filled out an application, gave credit info and references, and physically went to see the apartment - seems like he's serious to me. Who requires essentially $2000 cash to print out a lease?

I'd put the fraud alert on my credit info, just in case (not a bad idea anyway, if he is providing that information on rental applications anyway).

If he is really intent on going through with this he can offer her an application fee/small deposit/earnest money/whatever you want to call it to process the paperwork - say $200 to get the paperwork done, and the remainder upon signed lease *and* turnover of keys on site. In the meantime, I would find out who owns this building, track down who is authorized to manage/rent the property, and talk to the neighbors.

This sounds wrong to me. Maybe the lady is inexperienced, or maybe experienced enough to think that she's been scammed enough to get cash up front, or maybe this is more normal than I think. But it *feels* wrong, and if your friend is desperate then he might be ignoring signals. He should take the time to check this out better before handing over that money.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:42 AM on September 29, 2010

Scammy scam scam.

Your friend will be really desperate when he's still looking for a place, but with 2,000 less to his name.
posted by Windigo at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2010

I would never hand over any money before looking at the lease. If you commit money before seeing the lease, you lose all negotiating power.

How is printing the lease for this person invalidating the lease for the next person that would look at it? How is this lease not already in electronic form? I got my lease agreement emailed to me five years ago.
posted by germdisco at 8:55 AM on September 29, 2010

There was JUST a rental scam in SF. I can't find the story now, but it was in the papers when I was there in July.
posted by micawber at 9:15 AM on September 29, 2010

Another vote for scam. It's rentals 101 - you don't hand over any money until it's a done deal, and a proper lease is signed.
posted by Citrus at 9:16 AM on September 29, 2010

1. It does not cost $2,000 to print 40 pages.
2. You should thouroughtly read a 40 page lease before agreeing to rent an apartment.
3. You should not pay to read the lease.
4. money is given once keys are in hand, not in the mail, not at an office down the street, but in hand.

This is a total scam. If it's not a scam, then your friend should be able to explain the above and the landlord shouldn't balk.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2010

They're going to have to print the lease no matter who the apartment is rented to anyway. If he's not serious, he won't sign it and date it, and the next person they choose will. This is a scam.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:16 AM on September 29, 2010

Yup, sounds dodgy.

I've provided emergency housing for someone who had made the mistake of wiring two months' rent and the security deposit for a flat that didn't exist outside of a craigslist ad. That was foolish, of course. But a friend is currently doing the same for a chap who wired money in advance for an apartment that friends of his had checked out in person, twice, in the presence of the 'landlord'.

The Paris police are currently looking for that 'landlord', who got sixty-six people to hand over money in advance on a flat that didn't belong to him. Probably walked away with a cool 200,000€.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 9:04 PM on September 29, 2010

So was it a scam? Did your friend get the place?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Just a quick follow up. I had my friend read the answers and he decided to just drop the entire thing and search elsewhere.
He contacted the woman and told her he was no longer interested.
Interestingly enough, he received an e-mail from the LLC the next day confirming he had cancelled the process.
He decided to not follow through with any further investigating.

2 days later he was able to find a legit apartment to rent.
posted by simplethings at 1:14 PM on October 30, 2010

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