If I think it's a scam, it is a scam -right?
June 30, 2008 8:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm pretty damn sure I'm being scammed. Am I? This question regards L.A and the UK

I found an apartment posting on craigslist and I got in touch with the poster. The first alarm bell was that the posting was removed within a couple of hours. Then I heard back from the poster. He quoted a different address to me and said that the reason for good rental deal was that he's just moved to the UK on a five year contract and he wants someone to look after the place in the meantime. The one problem he said was that he had the only set of keys and they're with him in the UK.

My response was that he should send the keys and a contract to a friend in L.A and we'll meet up with the friend, see the place and if we like it we'll sign the contract and give the friend a check. He then wrote back saying that TNT could do this, he then quoted a different and higher rent.

At this point my wife and I were convinced that he was a scammer and I wrote back asking about all the inconsistencies. I figured that we wouldn't hear from him again, but we did. He said that he was having a bad day, and that the address is as posted on the ad, and the rent is back to normal as well.

I've managed to extract a UK number for him. He says he's in Liverpool but the number he gave me as a central London number (I'm from the UK and I told him this in my first email, so an 0207 number for Liverpool immediately rings alarm bells.)

Lastly, my wife did some detective work and found out that there's a seller with the same name on ebay, but he has a good record.

So I guess the gist of this is does this sound completely dodgy, or does this sound completely dodgy? Of course I'm not going to exchange any money or do this weird TNT thing (as far as I know TNT is a courier not an escrow account) but does any one have any experience of this? FWIW, the apartment is in downtown L.A.
posted by ob to Grab Bag (25 answers total)
Uh. That sounds kinda dodgy. I would steer clear.
posted by grouse at 8:43 AM on June 30, 2008

Big time dodgy. Walk away.
posted by tkolar at 8:46 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure what the specific scam is here, but one of the recent ones out here is someone renting an apartment that they don't even own. A scammer will find an open apartment, set the rent low and rent to multiple parties, get the deposits and disappear-- all before the rightful owner of the apartment building discovers the plan.

Not sure how he would plan to do this from the UK, but thought I'd mention it.
posted by sharkfu at 8:48 AM on June 30, 2008

There are dozens of honest listings on craigslist. Just find another one. This sounds like a scam. I am not sure why you and your wife keep pursuing this more and more with each alarm bell.

I've managed to extract a UK number for him.

But why? If I tried to rent a place and the landlord didn't have keys, the right address, or the correct rent in mind, I would instantly drop it and move on. You should do the same.

Lastly, my wife did some detective work and found out that there's a seller with the same name on ebay, but he has a good record.

Again, not sure why you're doing this. Are you hoping that somebody here says "Oh no, this is completely normal. Just go ahead and give him a deposit?" Please don't get blinded by the low rent and ignore all the evidence pointing to a potential scam.
posted by special-k at 8:51 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: Here's another post about the same scam.

Craigslist has a big, yellow-lined warning at the top of their Avoiding scams and fraud page that states: "DEAL LOCALLY WITH FOLKS YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of the scam attempts on craigslist."

That really is the cardinal rule of Craigslist.
posted by eschatfische at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 100% Scam. Do not deal with anyone who lists an apt and for whatever reason -no matter how plausible- is not currently in the area. I had a friend who moved to NYC recently and a good 40% of the listings she sought were pulling the same scam.
posted by yeti at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: The one problem that I didn't mention is that we're not in L.A so we're doing this all remotely. As far as the research is concerned, my wife did this as a matter or course. Anyway, thanks for the answers so far.
posted by ob at 9:03 AM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for that link eschatfische. I see that that was about a rental in NYC but now this is happening to craigslist ads for L.A too. In fact I looked this morning as a wiser individual and there seem to be more that look similar (i.e. no phone number, no direct contact information.) This has only cost us a bit of time and a couple of emails, but now I won't answer any ads that don't have direct contact information. A year ago we found our current place through a craigslist ad that ad no contact info (and a landlord that was a few thousand miles away), but I guess there are too many scammers out there for me to waste my time with this now.
posted by ob at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: This is a scam, scam, scam. I've been looking for an apartment on Craigslist. I email everyone with a good deal, even if it seems too good to be true, just in case. The too good to be true apartments are always owned by people who have moved to the UK and have the only set of keys. Scam, scam, scam, scam, scam. Unless you turn on the news and they're reporting about an enormous exodus of landlords to the UK, steer clear of any cheap apartments with tricky foreign owners.
posted by prefpara at 9:14 AM on June 30, 2008

Huh. When my fiance was looking for an apartment in L.A. our guy was German.
posted by giraffe at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: Scam. Who leaves the country for months and doesn't leave someone a set keys to check on the place? Is there no one who can take in the mail or check to make sure a pipe hasn't burst?

I love Craigslist as much as the next person, but you're trying to do something that Craigslist isn't really suitable to deliver. Craigslist works best when a local seller meets a local buyer in person.

You want to do an international move. You are not local to make your transaction and Craigslist might not really work. I've done the same type of moves myself and it's a huge hassle. Consider a short term corporate apartment (ouch on cost!) or a short term lease with a corporate leasing company. Get to LA, live in short term digs for 3 months, then use Craigslist to find a long-term lease.
posted by 26.2 at 9:30 AM on June 30, 2008

Scam. It is merely a variation on the common Craiglist scam: you give me money now, I give you $thing_of_value later. Of course, $thing_of_value never arrives.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: When I was searching for an apartment in LA I used West Side Rentals. They are a reputable company and have listings everywhere in every price range. It will cost you a low fee to join their service, but it is worth every single penny!

I found a fantastic 900sqft apt in the Historic Adams District for $800.00!!!
posted by phytage at 10:08 AM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: 26. is giving you good advice.

I did this in Boston. But beware, some short-term legitimate rental agencies aren't the greatest and there may be variable fees like for cleaning after move out that can seem arbitrary and high.

Two or three months on a short-term lease seems reasonable for finding a more permanent apartment. Then you can check out the prospective neighborhoods yourself.

Last year my son rented a room via Craigslist from a guy in Santa Monica for a few weeks before he found a fantastic roommate and apartment near UCLA in a neighborhood that's good and at a good [for LA] price. His short term landlord in Santa Monica even helped him move!

Good Luck!
posted by subatomiczoo at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2008

Flag the ad. Craigslist doesn't love scammers.
posted by theora55 at 10:56 AM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks folks. Actually we're not doing this internationally (we're on the East Coast) and we have friends in LA that can check out places for us, but still I'm sure it's best to be there in person.
posted by ob at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2008

Best answer: The same scammers are trying the same scam with bargain-priced MacBook Pros.
posted by holgate at 1:44 PM on June 30, 2008

This rings of a huge scam, as others have said.

Anyone who can't show you is not in it for real and it looking to take your money.
posted by Gular at 2:54 PM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: I will pay for a 2 days delivery so you will receive the laptop within 3-4 days.
Obviously we need a safe way to complete this deal that will allow us to make sure we receive what we are after.
I have found a way for us to complete the deal safely and fast, and in this way you will receive the laptop in less than 3 days, if you move fast as well. The solution is provided by a worldwide delivery company called TNT. TNT is similar to Fedex, DHL or UPS and they will provide assistance in hadling the payment and delivery of the laptop.
With this procedure you will have the change to test the laptop before I receive my payment.
The procedure is explained on the TNT webpage and please click on the link below to the TNT website to see how we can complete the deal safely and fast directly from the website of the company.

I got this from one of the comments on the site that holgate links to. If one were to replace the word laptop with the word keys, one would have one of the emails I received verbatim.
posted by ob at 3:01 PM on June 30, 2008

Even if it wasn´t a scam, would you want a landlord who changes the rent because ¨he was having a bad day¨?
posted by yohko at 4:08 PM on June 30, 2008

For the record, there is a company called TNT which is similar to Fedex etc., I can see their headquarters a mile away if I look out of the window.

But there's no evidence they operate any kind of online payment/escrow system. They just deliver stuff as far as I know.

So I'd be interested to know what that link is which is mentioned in your post, and which website it actually goes to. It seems like someone's banking, no pun intended, on the use of an unfamiliar, but genuine, company name to confuse the issue and get you to pay to some other entity -- i.e. you look up the real TNT and establish its bona fides, which leads you to trust some other site with your payment which looks like TNT but isn't.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:51 PM on June 30, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I've never heard of TNT having an escrow service either. Anyway, here's the link that I was sent. As you'll see it's genuine and mentions nothing about escrow and was just another mistake that this guy made. As knew what TNT was I didn't even bother reading the link at the time.
posted by ob at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2008

oldest scam in the book.
five other guys will show up to "your" apartment, keys in hand, then the REAL owner will show up and throw you all out
posted by swbarrett at 5:29 AM on July 2, 2008

I have had 3 people email me something similar in the past 5 days as I've responded to Craigslist apartment ads in the DC area. In two cases, once I realized the ads were scams, I found that the addresses matched legit properties without vacancies. prefpara's right. Interestingly some of the fake ads I've responded to are good, but not quite too good. Only one was a little suspicious from the very beginning. Some fake ads seem pretty legit until you get the email response explaining that the keys are in the UK.
posted by Tehanu at 9:17 AM on August 28, 2008

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