The blueprints of a Craigslist apartment scam

Sorry, this one isn’t about language. But it is about knowing how to do research to prove people right and wrong, which is how I spend a lot of my time in working with language.

So what is this? This is what a Craiglist apartment scam looks like. The Craiglist abuse department took down the ad yesterday, but not before I made a PDF of it as backup. Besides two pictures of a neat, well-furnished apartment, it has this:

$1100 / 2br – frunished 2 bedrooms 2 baths apt (Upper West Side)
12 W 68th St !
This is a building just right next to central Park where all the funs takes place here in NY, is few steps to central Park and you can have a full view from this Unit. Lincoln center is close by and Damrosh Park is near by, the cross streets are central Park west and Broadway easy to access and lots of security.

Utilities Included: Heat,Electric,Gas,Water,AC

If you know New York City real estate, your alarm bells are ringing. A two-bedroom apartment in that neighborhood in New York City does not rent for $1100. My first thought was that it should rent for at least double that.

Then I looked at the pictures. Newish building, nice floors, big windows, lots of space, expensive furnishings. My second though was that the apartment should be at least $2800 a month.

Then I re-considered the location. I put it closer to $3800 a month.

Also, the ad says the cross streets are Central Park West and Broadway. No, they’re not. Twelve West 68th Street is between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. Broadway is one block further to the west.

Also the mention of Damrosch Park is curious. Who gives a damned about Damrosch Park when you have Central Park a few hundred feet away and when Damrosch is four blocks away on the other side of Broadway and Lincoln Center? Nobody, that’s who.

I figured it was probably a scam, but just in the off chance it was a poorly written and miscategorized ad, I emailed the guy. You see that sometimes: somebody only wants to rent out their apartment for a week and they forget to say so in the ad, making it look like $1100 is the rent for a month, and they make the mistake of not putting it in the short-term rentals. Also sometimes people do a bad copy-and-paste job from one ad to another but they mean no harm. It happens.

But then I got a response from ohus223@aol.com.

Hello and than you for your interest in my apt.
I am the owner and the apt is available immediately,
I am now working at the US Embassy in London, UK (Great Britain) i will work here at least 4 years. Because i can’t come to the US to show you the apartment will make the deal only via Rent.com . To see,inspect and then rent the apartment you will have to send me your details:

Name:
Address:
City:
State:
Zip:

I would also like to know a bit more details about you and a bit about your credit score.

The rent terms are simple:

You can rent the apartment from 6 months to 6 years.
1100$/Month
1 Month Advance 1100$
1 Month Safety Deposit in advance (1100$)

The transaction will be done via Rent.com(an eBay company)

After you send me the details i will start the transaction. You will receive the transaction info and the invoice. I am the apartment owner so because i am out of the country and the apartment has furniture and appliances worth over 30,000$ to see the apt you will have to send a safety deposit, i will not receive this deposit, the payment details will be unavailable to me, i will get the payment only if you decide to rent the apartment, if you do not rent the apartment you will get the money back the same day. After your deposit is verified you will receive the rental agreement and the property key so you can inspect the apartment. After the inspection:

If you do not want to rent the apartment you will receive the deposit back the same day. You will have to return the rental agreement and the key.

If you want to rent the apartment the safety deposit will be given to me and I will keep it as guarantee in case something happens with the furniture/appliances etc. You will receive this money when you do not want to rent the apartment anymore, if everything in the apartment has not been damaged.

The apartment is very close, in walking distance to local transport, bus metro etc. has just been renovated, totally finished, flexible lease, is nice, clean, quiet, has all the facilities and the utilities a man needs including electric Utility, Cable TV, Parking, Laundry in the bldg, Air conditioning, high speed internet, workout facility, well behaved pets are allowed.

The rent is for the whole apartment NOT just a shared room. This is not a sublease, etc, i am the OWNER.

I hope you are a serious person.
Regards,

— APT DETAILS
2 Bd. Apartment
12 W 68th St, New York, NY 10023

This is a building just right next to central Park where all the funs takes place here in NY, is few steps to central Park and you can have a full view from this Unit. Lincoln center is close by and Damrosh Park is near by, the cross streets are central Park west and Broadway easy to access and lots of security.
 
Utilities Included: Heat,Electric,Gas,Water,AC

Here is the email message as a PDF, which includes more pictures of the apartment. The message is scammeriffic. All the tells are there. It’s 99.99% sure to be a scam, a fraud, a rip-off.

1. The scammer forgot to give a name but is quick to claim to work at the US Embassy in London. It’s an inversion of the normal priority: the first information should be readily divulged, the latter only rarely and cautiously. He’s claiming to work someplace with authority, yet uses an AOL address, doesn’t give further credentials, doesn’t offer references, not even a building manager, superintendent, neighbor, anybody.

2. He’s asking for money just to view the apartment. Nobody reputable will ever ask you to pay money just to view a prospective apartment. Never ever. Walk away. The way it would be handled by somebody reputable is through a broker or management company. This is a town filled with them. Again, you will never be asked to pay money to look at an apartment in this town by anyone who is honest.

3. He invokes “Rent.com(an eBay company)” as if it’s some kind of money-handling authority. To the best of my knowledge, Rent.com is only a listing service and doesn’t handle the transfer of money from renters to landlords. This means he’s probably going to give me the URL to a fake site that claims to be Rent.com and claims to do escrow; that is, it supposedly will hold my money until such time as I authorize its release. Instead, what would happen is that I would sign over my money, he’d receive it, and I’d never hear from him again.

4. He’s obsessed with the money. Most of the message is about money. That, too, is an inversion of priorities. Also, the dollar sign comes after the amount. Maybe he’s a European who owns an apartment here, maybe not, but the email seems designed, otherwise, to make one think the scammer is American, specifically the talk of working there for four more years. Also, the overall writing level is poor and disjointed. The State Department surely requires better performance than that, no matter what you think of its actions or politics. I’d expect somebody working in the US Embassy and owning an expensive apartment to have the best education and the high-quality presentation skills that go with it. Writing well would be ingrained.

5. The list of information for which he’s asking. It’s not that he’s asking for it, it’s the list. Scam after scam, time after time, again and again, features that list or one very similar. In looking at the dozens of 419 scam letters and the “foreign agent” scam letters (“we need someone to ship us merchandise or redirect funds to us”) that I’ve received over the last week, I see that many of the 419 scammers include “The List” and ALL of the foreign agent scammers do.

On the off chance I was misreading the email and it was authentic, I googled the building address. Turns out, it’s a historic building and it has a web site with pictures of the building and a list of apartments. This was the clincher: the Craigslist ad is with 100% certainty a scam.

1. The window configuration shown in the scammer’s photos is impossible and does not match the building at all.

2. The view out the scammer’s photos does not match the view on Google street view.

3. There’s no two-bedroom apartment at 12 West 68th Street. There is one in the adjoining 14 West 68th Street, but the photos don’t match at all.

4. There is a 3 to 4 bedroom apartment for rent in the building. The asking price is $7000. I think that confirms my estimate of about $3800 a month for a two-bedroom in that building. That price isn’t a sign of someone desperate for money: they could just knock a few hundred off the going rate, not thousands, and still have renters lined up to sign up.

I sent the scammer one more email trying to get a name. He wrote back, claiming his name is “Gary Barts” and repeating most of the same information in the previous emails. This one is even more about the money.

So, la-di-da, scammer, and goodbye. I’ve done my best to make this as googleable as all get-out.

I would post the raw source of the emails, but since he’s using an AOL account, there’s no indication of his original sending location.

Posted January 31, 2008

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