Craigslist can be a valuable resource when you’re looking for anything from gently used furniture to a job to a new place to live. However, when dealing with this highly anonymous online classified site, you must always proceed with a measure of caution. This is especially true for anyone searching for a rental home or apartment.
To be fair, Craigslist does post disclaimers and tips to help would-be renters avoid scams and fraudulent activity. However, one recurring scheme seems so reasonable that many apartment hunters fall victim to it.
According to Consumerist, which first reported on the underhanded practice in 2011, scammers post fake rentals in an attempt to con potential renters into paying for a credit report. Unfortunately, since the post is not real, the person looking for a home is out time and money.
The only upside to this hoax is that the scammers are not out to steal your identity or even garner your credit card information. The people posting these ads simply do so to earn a referral fee from the company selling credit reports.
Still, you’ve now wasted your time communicating with a fictitious landlord (you still have no apartment!) and your forked over cash for a credit check you didn’t need. It’s not the worst thing that could happen to you, but it’s still frustrating.
How can you avoid falling for this and other Craigslist scams? It helps to realize that you have to be on your toes at all times. According to a study by New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, more than half of all scam rental listings make it through Craigslist’s fraud detection system. Suspicious posts tend to remain on the site for up to 20 hours, which gives scammers abundant time to snag a victim or two.
Following the recommendations on the classified advertising website can prevent issues, as well. Craigslist’s first rule for avoiding scams is:
“Deal locally, face-to-face—follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts.”
A supposed landlord who wants you to complete a credit report or provide any other personal details before allowing you to view the rental advertised is a big red flag. Never wire funds, mail money orders or provide your financial information to someone you’ve never met for a place you have never seen.
Above all, remember the Golden Rule for avoiding rip offs: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.