Author Update (1/27/10) – This post has become a log of the messages people receive from craigslist scammers. Make sure to read through the comments at the bottom and post other scammer emails you have received.
Yesterday I began searching on craigslist for a place in DC to re-locate to. I am pretty indifferent of specific location but rent price is very important. I saw a listing for a $1200 “very nice” condo in the heart of Georgetown. For you that know the area… look at the location they listed.
I bit. I sent them an email saying i was interested and if that price was really possible. I should have known “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” This is the response i got:
Thanks for taking the time to look at my property.My name is Anna Paquin,I’m 43 years old,I’m a construction engineer and I’m the owner of this condo(2 bedrooms,2 bathrooms,1100 square footage).I lived in this beautiful condo for over 5 years,loved every day of it.It’s located in the heart of Georgetown at 3210 Grace St.The prime location can’t be beat and the garaged parking is an amenity sure to be appreciated by anyone(located at 1/2 block to M street,1/2 block to Georgetown Waterfront Park….Views of Potomac and Downtown Arlington from balcony).The condo is fully furnished with all necessary amenities(exactly like in the pics),the unit is equipped with recessed lighting, central air and heat, the condo come with two parking spots,a storage unit where you can deposit my furniture (if you don’t like it and you want use your furniture),there is also a linen closet, and most importantly, a new front loading stacked washer and drier.Pets allowed.I’ve moved to United Kingdom with my job (i am a construction engineer) and decided to rent it because the rent is very expensive here.The price is so low because I’m here and is very hard to find a tenant.I can rent you the condo for min. 1 month and max. 6 years(or more).I really want to find a good and responsible tenant for it, and I hope that you can send me some personal information about yourself.The rent for the whole condo for 1 month is $1200 including all utilities(water,electricity, internet, cable, parking , airconditioning, fireplace, dishwasher, garbage) and the security deposit is 1200$(you’ll get the deposit back at your departure-or you can use it to pay your last month of rent) and I want to receive the money monthly in my bank account. You can move in the condo in the same day when you receive the keys. The only problem is that I`m the only person who has the keys and I have nobody in United States that could show you the condo. In order to check it, see if you like it(I’m sure that you’ll love it), you need to receive the keys and the contract.
If you want to rent the condo, please e-mail me back and I will explain you how the payment and shipping will take place!
Not only that but I also received a slew of photos with it! Check em out at the bottom of this post. Wow I cant believe THE Anna Paquin would think to rent her beautiful luxury apartment to a lousy peasant like me!
Let me be clear. This is a scam. There are hundreds of these types of scams that happen every day to uninformed people all over the country. This was the first one that I actually started to believe because these people are good at exploiting the needs of others and general sense of unfounded trust that exists on the internet.
Here are some tips to help you identify a Craigslist scam..
Watch for unusual or odd use of language. Most of the time these scammers are overseas and do not have a grip on our language.
Punctuation: Notice in the above paragraph there are not enough spaces after the periods. Some of them do not have any space at all. This isnt a stab at people who are grammatically challenged but in all of the scams I have encountered while using craigslist, this is one of the common denominators.
Grammar or word choice: Most of these con artists use thesauruses and translators to translate their fake emails and messages from their native language into our own. For anyone who’s studied foreign language you know that english is one of the most unsual and difficult to learn. Our grammatical structures and sentence syntax is unlike other language and it does not translate well to other languages and vice versa. These automated translaters do their best but usually you end up with things like “How you money make? I you pay now.” It’s not dyslexia, it’s degenerates.
Tone: Americans are a very informal people, as you know. Sit up in your chair please remove your cocked baseball cap, Johnny. A lot of scammers end up coming off very direct and abrupt. It’s partially the language barrier but also a cultural difference. Our language allows for very “feeler” and wishy-washy language that doesn’t typically appear in these emails. It also has to do with getting straight to the point because scamming is a numbers game. If you don’t bite on their bottom line, the’ll find someone else who does.
Selling from afar: A lot of these scams mention selling a product from a distance. Craigslist isn’t meant for this but there are times when it may be appropriate. Usually they create an obstacle as to why they can’t meet you in person, which can also be a pull factor if you’re skeptical of meeting people on craigslist in the first place. And when you can’t meet in person to exchange cash you have to resort to…
Wiring Money: This is probably the most common denominator between all craigslist scams. They don’t want to use PayPal or any type of respected and regulated service. They only resort to money wiring because its one-time, non-traceable and non-refundable.
Examine the e-mail address: this is a warning sign. most people choose an e-mail address that is unique to them and often times has something personal about them. The email address Anna used was: firstname.lastname@example.org. You better believe that was auto-generated by a piece of software in order to save time. Besides, who uses hotmail anymore? anyone?
But honestly after all of that the most important thing that you can remember when trying to protect yourself against a craigslist or other internet scam is remember this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A $1200, 2 bedroom apartment, half a block from the georgetown water front and half a block from M street does not exist and never will. I would believe that price per square foot per month.
Use the internet, which is constantly at your fingertips these days, to protect yourself against internet fraud. For rentals and apartments, use Google Maps with street view to check if the location matches pictures and descriptions that are given by the “landlord.” Google unusual wording in the advertisement to see if other people have reported the same ad. Like I said it’s a numbers game with scammers they dont care if someone figures it out, they’re betting on those that don’t. Besides, teachers have been using it for years now to find kids plagiarizing essays from the internet. Google is your best friend.
Please be careful when you’re out there, it’s a jungle.