Craigslist’s New York apartment classifieds are a con artist favorite, bilking individuals and families out of their hard-earned deposit and rent money.

Fraud in New York City’s Craigslist classifieds has become so pervasive that Craigslist has considered charging a fee for its ads. Their hope is that by putting a charge in place, they will discourage phony listings. Most of these fraudulent postings are common bait and switch schemes. However, some of the cases reported involved more elaborate schemes run by professional criminals. These scam artists have managed to bilk apartment seekers for thousands of dollars.

Everyone knows how competitive the New York apartment market is, with too many people looking for far too few apartments. Some bold con artists have capitalized on this situation and used it to their advantage.

In one of the worst cases we found a woman who promised a small studio apartment to several dozen different people. She collected enough money from each hopeful tenant in the form of rent and security deposits to make off with over $60,000.

This may not be the most common apartment scam on Craigslist but it’s not unique. People sub-renting the same apartment to multiple people and making off with their money are numerous enough that anyone using Craigslist or any other online service should thoroughly check out their landlord before handing over their money.

Tips for avoiding Craigslist apartment rental scams

  • Ask to see the landlord’s ID – record all the information you can from it.
  • Use a browser to search for the person’s name who you’re dealing with. Be sure to add quotes around their name. You could add the words “fraud” or “scam” at the end of your search terms.
  • Use reverse directory look up if the person has given you their telephone number. It’s important to double check that they are who they say they are.
  • Visit the local county courthouse to look up property ownership for the apartment in question. Who really owns it? Is it the person you’re dealing with? Or someone else?
  • Scan any provided photographs carefully. Do they match up with what you’ve seen in person? Do they look like they all came from the same place?
  • They don’t ask for an application or permission to check your credit? That’s a red flag!
  • Considering the current state of our economy and the rise in foreclosures, ask the landlord if they’re current on their mortgage payments, and then get their answer in writing.
  • Consider using another method for obtaining a rental, i.e. real estate agent, going through a rental agency, etc…

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