Let’s say you’ve just got an excess of money in your life, and you’re tired of it. To remedy the situation, you decide to lose eleven or twelve hundred dollars to a con artist.
Now, how should you go about it? Eureka! To Craigslist!
Start looking up rental properties on Craigslist and find a few you like. Start contacting property owners until one instructs you to drive by the house and check it out. The owner himself can’t be there to show you around the place because he’s on vacation overseas. However, if you like the look of the place, you can just send a check for the first month’s rent to his vacation address (or wire the money).
Follow his instructions to the letter, and hey presto! you’ve just lost several hundred bucks! The person on the phone never did own the house, and in fact has just lifted photos from a legitimate rental advertisement.
Naturally, nobody actually wants to lose money to a scam, so what I’m really saying here is don’t do any of the above.
Okay, fine, you can look for apartments or houses to rent on Craigslist. That, in and of itself, isn’t a mistake. However, if you find one you’re interested in, absolutely refuse to hand over money unless the property owner agrees to meet you there in person, has a key that opens the door, shows you the inside, and can prove that the property belongs to him or her. (You still might want to bring a friend with you, because there are other, non-financial risks associated with meeting a stranger.)
Also, never hand over money until contracts have been signed and everything is official and legal.
With the kind of scam described above, you have to consider three questions: first, why would you agree to rent a house or apartment, mostly sight-unseen (except for the outside)? What if you find out there’s no kitchen and the only toilet is right in the middle of the bedroom?
Second, why would they agree to rent a house to you, sight-unseen? There are people in the world who just wreck stuff. Any owner renting out a property is going to want to feel you out in person and make sure you at least don’t seem like the type that’s going to cut a hole in the living room wall with a chainsaw three days after you move in.
Third, if the house is locked up and the owner is supposedly on vacation overseas, how’s he s’posed to give you the key?