Almost Scammed

It blew my mind that I almost got scammed. Not that I believe that I am better than others that have gotten scammed, actually it is more so that I doubt the ‘to good to be true’ so much that sometimes I know I miss opportunities. This time though, I did the research and while it didn’t fully add up to 4, that 2 + 2 was coming up to like 3.8 which is doggone close. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades they say though.

Let’s backtrack and I will share my experience. Maybe this has happened to you, or someone you know; or hopefully my near miss will help you from stumbling in a similar hole.

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Friendship begins, then rolls in to love. This is fabulous except that they live 2 hours apart. So, boy decides to hunt for jobs near girl, so that he can spend more time near her, and eventually move closer. Then boy asks mom and dad to step in and help apartment hunt.

closeup photo of room for rent sign

That’s how I ended up 2 hours from home, helping Michael search for an apartment, during Covid19. Michael was working 5 days a week, and we stayed in an AirBnB while I did school online and searched for apartments. We were so grateful for the AirBnB being open to essential workers, and that he had gotten an essential job. (Side note, our host was great and it worked out so well for us there.) An added benefit was the reprieve that it gave me from caring for mom. Ken is furloughed, so he has been able to stay with mom and let me have this break. Being able to be away, get out and walk, and just re-charge was amazing. But… back to the scam.

The general radius of where Michael was home hunting is a pretty expensive area, which is not uncommon in Florida. We are blessed with incredible weather, lovely beaches, and lots to do all year long so it makes us pretty marketable. We went in to this knowing that finding anything under $700 a month was most likely impossible, or it would be an hour from his work. Realizing that between $700 – $900 would be either a rough apartment, or a rarity – we went to work eliminating what was not safe and believing we would find something awesome out there.

Now, for those of you that are in sticker shock right now, let me tell you that along our west coast, in the area he’s working – a one bedroom apartment can be as much as $1400, with the median being $1065 a month. ‘Lot Rent’ for an rv or mobile home down here can run around $700 – 800 a month from the places that I checked – so there isn’t any benefit to try that either. Yes, I did weigh out buying a recreational vehicle if the lot rent were low enough to get him started for a year or so. That idea was to let him live in it for a year, then he moves to an apartment and Ken and I have a way to travel. (could have been a win-win!) Burst my bubble to learn not only the lot rent was so high, but it didn’t include utilities either!

Imagine my delight / doubt / excitement / disbelief when we came across an ad for an apartment right on the bay for under $1000 with utilities included! At first I considered dismissing it, but then I started thinking. This is during COVID19. Maybe the owner is just trying to get the unit rented so that the mortgage is getting paid. So maybe that’s why it is a few hundred a month less than others in that neighborhood. So, we called them and left our number.

We get a text back apologizing for missing our call. Then the texting begins with the person answering some of my questions, most actually. But when we ask for a tour, they say no. Which isn’t super surprising – lots of places are no longer doing tours because of COVID19. We are asked for our email and then receive a really miniature application. It is also requested that we send the deposit and first months rent via an electronic means. (They had quite a list of options, including PayPal and C$SH, but I personally like to use Venmo, so I asked about that.) Literally the gentleman that I was texting with immediately downloaded Venmo, then texted me to let me know that he had, and that I could use that. This was getting to be close to 10pm at night, so I stopped responding. I felt that normal businesses don’t generally operate that late. Something just made me feel uneasy.

The next morning I receive a couple of more texts asking if we are still interested and wanting to proceed. So, I did a little online research on apartment scams. Unfortunately I didn’t save the websites, and as I write this blog I can’t find one of them that gave me a specific list. I am going to include the list by memory, as much as I can, and if anyone happens to know the blog or site that I got it from – please comment – I would love to give credit to them.

do not touch sticker

Signs that it may be a scam:

  • listed below market value

  • request for wiring money

  • refuses voice phone contact

  • often times only an exterior photo of rental

  • can’t see the apartment yet – claims must wait until this tenant moves out

What I did find when trying to pull up the pages for the research I had previously done, was a couple of blogs that I am including the links for. These did a great write up and the second one also has some links to help in case you think it is a fraud, or if you got stuck in a scam, etc.

toughnickel.com How to Avoid Apartment and Housing Rental Scams on CraigsList 4/20/2020 written by cactusbythesea

thespruce.com Avoid Apartment Rental Scams 1/05/2020 written by Ron Leshnower

Here is one that I really wish I knew about prior to the apartment hunting:

rentberry.com Ultimate List of Tips to Avoid Being Scammed When Apartment Hunting, this one appears to actually be a help site for both tenants and landlords.

(PLEASE do your own research – I am not endorsing rentberry.com – I have never used them, and didn’t do any investigating about them, I am just saying that I would have looked in to them if I had known about them prior to renting Michael’s apartment.)

Research being done, I then had to decide if I was just going to call it quits. Instead of that, I contacted a realtor friend and asked her what else I could do to check in to this. (Mind you, if I had seen the blog about researching ownership and such I wouldn’t have had to bother my friend.) She told me a couple of places to check in to the public tax information and such to see whom the owner was. The owner actually has a number of holdings, and has a local office. Having this information in my pocket, I carefully chose my next step.

I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. I texted and said that I had some reservations. I said that I would like to discuss it over the phone. (Recall that the one warning blog said that they never call.) He called. Another sign pointing that this may not be a scam.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Multiple photos were posted

  • It is locally owned

  • The price was less, but not drastically less considering COVID19 had shut down ALL vacationing with no way to know how long this will go on.

  • He was super responsive and now he even voice calls to chat with me.

He is focused on when we can get the money in and such to get this apartment rented and my son moved in. I am focused on making sure that I don’t send out money that won’t get us an apartment. I know that these days more and more of us are doing digital money. Shoot, that is how I do as much as I can. Who wants to carry cash or a checkbook these days? There were warnings about not sending money, but the majority of them spoke about not wiring money. This wasn’t wiring. So was it wrong?

I then started asking him questions about how long he had owned the property. He said 5 years. The tax records showed it was sold 7 years ago. I then decided to ask why it wasn’t in his name. He said he and a partner owned it. I then gave an incorrect 1st name and the last name that was listed on the tax records, asking if that was who his partner was. He said yes, of course that was. Now mind you, I didn’t see it listed as James and ask if his partner was Jimmy. I made sure to choose two distinct names that didn’t sound similar at all.

So, when he jumped on it and went with that, plus added to the fact that he again tried to get me to Venmo him the security and first month rent – I knew at that point I wasn’t missing a great opportunity – I was about to be scammed.

100 US dollar banknote

I told him we were no longer interested and then hung up. I then called the police to see what needed to be done. They connected me to a task force that worked with fraud. I gave them the information that I had. They said that they would love to see Craigslist shut down. That unfortunately there were a lot of scams that come through there. It was explained to me that this is a quite common one, and that there are groups from Nigeria that continually do this. I was told that there are others that do it, but right now Nigeria is the hot spot for targeting American money through scams like this and similar ones. They suggested that I also contact the Federal Trade Commission and let them know.

I went on to ftccomplaintassistant.gov but there wasn’t anything that matched what I had. I did try another FTC sight, but I don’t have the address for that one. Since I wasn’t actually a victim, there wasn’t anything that could be done. The forms that I was supposed to fill out would not go on unless I said how much money had been taken from me. So, it was a dead end.

That’s when I decided to write this blog. Maybe I can’t stop that one person that was trying to scam me; but maybe I can protect someone else from getting scammed.

Sometimes there are good deals out there – but we as consumers need to beware. Be diligent in our research. Be polite but be tough, ask those questions. Don’t let someone else pressure us into spending that money until we ourselves are confident in what we are doing.

black rotary dial phone on white surface

Also, please….. if you get scammed – report it. Don’t feel embarrassed and just accept your loss. It happens to lots of people, and these scammers are getting better and better. I couldn’t stop this person because I stopped before I lost money. But if you lost money, they will listen to you and maybe it will stop one scammer. Please use your loss for good to help someone else.

We did end up finding an incredible deal on an apartment in a wonderful location. It was being shown by a local realtor that was working with the owner. We have contact information for the owner. There is an onsite handyman/security person. We physically met the realtor, and actually toured the apartment prior to doing any paperwork. We did an application in person that included background checks and all. Then we went and got money orders from the back and met again to put a deposit and pay application fees. The process took a bit longer, but it was all good in the end. He now has a great apartment, and we have a place to visit!

I hope this story and the links that I shared help you or someone you know.

Didn’t fall for it, Amy

Thank you so much for reading, liking, commenting, following and sharing. You are what makes this blog what it is! You are important!

Photo Credit:

Unsplash.com:

Rent photo – Alex Block @alexblock

Camper photo – Rebecca Harris @rebeccaharris

Stop Photo – Markus Spiske @markusspiske

Money Photo – JP Valery @jpvalery

Phone Photo – Quino Al @quinoal


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