Police in Linden, New Jersey have arrested Allan Betancourt and Myra Sullivan on charges related to a scam in which they are accused of listing apartments they did not own for rent on Craigslist and swindling victims out of thousands of dollars of security deposits and upfront rental payments.
Craigslist is a popular place to go for people looking for a home or apartment to rent. It is also a popular place for scammers to place phony ads to cheat unsuspecting victims. Last year, New York University’s School of Engineering did a study entitled Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams in which they analyzed more than two million home and apartment rental ads for twenty cities and found that 29,000 of the ads were most likely scams.
The most common scam involved an ad for rental housing that required the person responding to the ad to obtain their credit score by clicking on a link in the email by which the scammer replied when the victim responded to the advertisement. Under affiliate programs with companies that provide credit scores, the scammers would get up to $18 for every referral. The victim ends up paying for a credit score he or she doesn’t need.
Other scammers place phony listings and trick people into wiring money as a security deposit or first month’s rent before the victim finds out that the scammer does not own the home. It is a simple matter for a scammer to copy and paste a legitimate real estate advertisement or listing into the scammer’s Craigslist ad, often indicating a temptingly low rent. Unfortunately, once the victim finds out that the scammer never owned the property and the ad was a scam, it is too late to get his or her money back.
The vast majority of the listings on Craigslist are legitimate, but you only have to be cheated once to feel the pain. When the rent looks too good to be true, you should immediately be skeptical. When the landlord is out of the country and wants you to wire money, you should be even more skeptical and if by out of the country we mean Nigeria, you should really be skeptical. Scammers prefer people to wire money because unlike a check or a credit card payment, it is almost impossible to stop payment or get the money back.
If you are considering responding to a rental housing advertisement on Craigslist, confirm that the person who says he or she is the owner by going to the tax assessors listings which are available online. If the names don’t match, that is a recipe for disaster. Also, go on line and see if you can find a duplicate listing for the home advertised on Craigslist.
Here is a link to the NYU study http://engineering.nyu.edu/files/McCoycraigslist.pdf