I want to explain a common craigslist scam that targets people renting out property. If you are not aware of this scam, you may fall victim to it. I, myself, have been targeted by this scam but have never been a victim. I unsuspectingly replied to these fraudulent e-mails thinking they were legitimate roommates, but after several exchanges, my gut instincts told me better.
How the Scam Works
The scammers or purported roommates make initial contact with you, stating that they are interested in renting your room, but cannot visit because they are overseas or have a tight time constraint and can’t make the time.
The scammer insists they are easy going and would like to move. They would have a very legitimate-sounding story. They might be a medical school or college student, or perhaps starting a new computer or modeling job, and they might even be arriving with their parents. Somewhere in the exchange of e-mails, they ask you for the total amount to secure the room for them to move in.
This is where I stopped the e-mail conversation, as it was getting too sketchy and just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want anyone to move in without first meeting them in person. That’s my #1 rule; enough said.
Based on my research, if you did reply to the scammer’s e-mail with the total amount, the scammer would send you a check, or very often some kind of international money order, for more than the total amount needed to secure your room. They might say it is a money order for their scholarship or an employer’s paycheck. Some of the scammers would just contact you, stating that they made a mistake and overpaid you. In any case, they would always request that you send difference back to them in via Western Union or Moneygram.
Seems fair and legit so far, right? Where’s the scam?
The scammer sends you a check or money order that looks genuine, but it’s actually fraudulent. The bank will accept this fraudulent check, as you are depositing it into your account. They may even cash it if you have an account with them. When you send them back the amount that was “overpaid,” you’re really sending them your own money, and the bank will deduct the full amount of the fraudulent check from your account when it fails to clear. Thus, the scammer runs away with your money.
Simple Ways Not to Fall Victim to This Scam
- Always talk to the potential roommates on the phone and determine their sincere interest.
- Be wary of foreigners. Scammers usually reside outside the U.S. to avoid prosecution, so if the e-mail is from a foreigner, be careful.
- Read the e-mail carefully. If there are a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes, it’s most likely a scammer from abroad.
- Avoid using Moneygram and Western Union to do transactions; instead meet up and exchange initial checks in hand. Better yet, never give money back until a check or money order clears your bank. For international checks, that may be several weeks.
This scam not only targets users of craigslists, but other roommate subscription sites as well. I have received the e-mails from scammers while using other resources, such as roommates.com and roomster.com. The e-mails generally read along the same lines, so it not isolated to craigslist. Trust your gut, and follow the advice in this post to determine if you are dealing with a legitimate applicant.