Friday, September 26, 2008

Don't Fall Prey to Apartment Scams

If you're looking for an apartment, rent.com lists some warning signs of potential rental scams. Watch out for:

  • "too good to be true" offers;
  • required payment through a wire transfer service (e.g. Western Union) or an online escrow service;
  • a landlord in a distant location;
  • pressure to complete the transaction asap;
  • unusual circumstances that "explain" why the apartment is so cheap, or why it can't be viewed prior to renting;
  • a landlord who can't or won't meet with you in person or speak to you over the phone.
To know the common names used in these scams, click "Read More"

One of the things that I did was to take some of the most commonly abused names I've seen this summer and have a look at them to try to determine how they end up as internet rental villains. Finding that there were multiple references to those names, I ended up narrowing my search, just out of curiousity, to see what common factors might be:
  • Jim Buckner ~ name used worldwide with the 'c' removed to make it 'Jim Bukner'; found in Ancestry.com, Classmate.com and Facebook.
  • Patrick Gilliland ~ name widely used with the 'k' removed to make it 'Patric Gilliland'; found on Ancestry.com, Classmates.com and Facebook.
  • David Fawbush ~ name heavily used in North America; found on Ancestry.com and Classmate.com (and, as a sidenote, posting heavily in Facebook rentals).
  • Tyesha Cook ~ name used globally this summer; found on Classmates.com and Facebook.
  • Donna Brunner ~ name used globally; found on Classmates.com, Ancestry.com and Facebook (and there is a Donna Brunner connected to the real estate industry).
  • Rinaggio - there were too many variations for me to search them all but they were also well represented on Classmates.com, Ancestry.com.
  • Simon Spalinger ~ this is a name that's really cropping up heavily lately; found on Facebook. As well, I saw a copy of the email sent out under this name and one line mentions that, though they are crusading in West Africa at the moment, they were originally from Switzerland. Lo and behold, there is a real Simon Spalinger in Zurich!
  • Johan K. V. Svanholm ~ name used heavily in rental scams under several variations and many different email addresses; found on Ancestry.com

It would appear to me that, along with phone books, that there are certainly more than one 'shopping' sites for scammers to skim names from in ready supply. (Keep in mind that I didn't do a highly exhaustive search ~ just enough to start showing that there are common threads connecting these names.)

Real lives ~ stolen! It's not only just about the money they manage to rip people off for but about names and lives that are impacted. -from

Update: Here are some samples of the messages the scammer sent our reader, so you can see for yourself what an apartment scam looks like. In this case it's pretty obvious, both from the poor writing style and the completely unrealistic story behind the low rental price. There are more examples on sites like 419eater and Here be dragons if you want to familiarize yourself with the, uh, genre.

#1:

Thank you for your interest. I have available the apartment located at 2800 W 44th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410, with 1 bedroom, 1 living room and 1 bathroom, square ft. 911-933. Because I moved with my job in United Kingdom, London, i need money to pay the rent here which is very expensive and that is the reason i want to rent the apt at this low price and to find a good person for it fast. I can rent you the apt for maximum 5 years this is the period i have contract here but i can rent it for a low period too. I`m the owner of the apt and it's exactly like in the PICS. The rent for 1 month is $900 including all utilities (water, electricity, Internet, cable, parking, air conditioning, fireplace, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator). You can move in the apt in the same day when you receive the keys. The only problem is that I`m the only person who has the keys but I hope that we will find a compromise.

Thank you for your interest and wait news from you.

#2:

Thank you for your reply. Like I have inform you before, the price you shall pay for one month of rent will be $900.00 US, with no extra taxes to pay. The money I want to receive it monthly to my bank account, I hope will be no problem for you to wire the money to my bank account. The apartment is ready for you, you will need only to receive the keys and the contract to check it, and see if you like it. Obviously we need a way to complete this deal that will allow us to make sure we receive what we are after. I have found a way for us to complete the deal safely and fast, and in this way you will receive the Keys in less than 2 days, if you move fast as well. The solution is provided by a company called TNT which is similar to FedEx, DHL or UPS, which will handle the payment and delivery of the Keys. I have found a procedure that will allow you to pay for the rent of the apt only after you will receive the keys and rental contract, through this way you will see it and decide if you will stay in the apt or not before I receive my payment.


sources: consumerist & chicaneryconsscams

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