Craigslist Housing Scams Still Going Strong

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CraigslistAs any broker can tell you, Craigslist has taken away lots of business when it comes to rental units. But various Craigslist housing scams should give apartment seekers pause.... like, a long pause.

The latest warning signal flashes our way from the great state of Michigan, as they say at political conventions. According to mlive.com, the Blackman Township Department of Public Safety just recently learned of a possible Craigslist housing scam involving fraudsters who appear to be living outside the U.S.
Here's how this alleged scam works, according to the department: Using rental units that are listed with Realtors, the crooks place Craigslist ads claiming that they're the actual owners and need to sublet because they're had to leave the country for some unspecified reason.

The ad asks that a $500 deposit be sent to them. Once they get the money, they promise to send a key and rental agreement.

Care to guess the odds of ever getting that rental agreement or that key?

Apparently, despite warnings about requests for money over the Internet, some folks keep getting taken for a ride. If not, the bad guys wouldn't keep up the scams.

Back in February of 2008, for example, the New York Daily News reported on a slightly different Craigslist housing scam.

In this one, a Brooklyn pad that should have rented for more than two grand a month was being advertised for just $950 because the current "tenant" had a job transfer. To get the greatly reduced price, according to the paper, you had to agree to send in a deposit and take the apartment sight unseen.

Testament, perhaps, to how New Yorkers love a good deal, especially in a tough economy, lots of folks apparently took the bait. They sent in their money and, sadly, never heard another word.

Craigslist, of course, warns people about these sorts of scams. But the fact that very similar schemes are still pulled off more than two years apart is a pretty strong indication that maybe even more safety measures need to be taken -- not just by would-be renters, but by Craigslist, too. (Are you listening, Craig?)

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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