New Craigslist Apartment Rental Scam

We'd like to warn all the prospective tenants out there to watch out for a craigslist apartment rental scam in Massachusetts. The scam goes like this: You send me the deposit, then I'll show you the apartment. That's an immediate red flag. Never give money for an apartment before a tour, a signed receipt, and a warm fuzzy feeling about the landlord.

Craigslist puts a footer at the bottom of every listing: "DO NOT buy/rent sight unseen." That's good advice.

The latest scam reads like the "Nigerian businessman trick."  It encourages confidence through a long, somewhat sad story.

Here's the Latest Craigslist Apartment Rental Scam

We would share a screenshot of the post except it was flagged for removal and taken down, and we didn't immediately see the exact same post under any other address.

The scam lists an apartment that's "too good to be true."  For instance, 20% cheaper than the lowest rent in the city and in the best neighborhood. Also, smoking and pets are okay.

When you email the landlord through the craigslist mail relay, you get a reply that looks like this:

Sample Craigslist Rental Scam Email

Don't do it! Never send in money expecting keys. If you're a seasoned apartment hunter you'll know this, but we posted it here because this was caught by a tenant who had been out of the market for a while. This prospective tenant was mostly sure this was a scam and wanted to check with us.

Elements of a good Craigslist Scam

Why are there still craigslist scams out there? Because they work! Yes, people get duped all the time. Here are clues for what to look for:

  1. They seem like a real person with a family. ("Firstly I would like to share with you a little about my family.")
  2. They have a reason to be somewhere far away. ("We have moved out due to my official job transfer in (West Africa).")
  3. They make you feel like the bad guy. (They say, "Need to make sure you will take very good care of the house... Want you to treat it as your own.")
  4. They give you a real address of a vacant house.  (In this example, 21 Vesper St. was up for sale at the time of the scam.)
  5. They ask you to send everything over.  ("Please tell us about yourself" and include "your family pictures."
  6. They help you visualize your success. ("We will send the keys.")
  7. They create a sense of urgency. ("Secure the house... to [not lose] it to other interested applicants.")

This is good salesmanship combined with wrongness.

Items 3, 4, 6, and 7 are just good sales techniques. Landlords like to tell tenants how much they care about their property. They give real addresses so you can check out the neighborhood first. They want you to imagine yourself living in the apartment. And they want to rent it as soon as possible.

But items 1, 2, and 5 are clues that this is no Massachusetts landlord:

1. Landlords usually don't share their family situation. Most landlords seek to remain private. If a landlord does share their family situation, they're probably making small talk.  If they live in the building they may be disclosing a special situation that could impact your happiness as a tenant. Either way, there's no need for it in this email. It's a confidence trick.

2. Absentee landlords would never rent at a distance. They would always at least get a neighbor or a friend to show renters the apartment. Seriously, would you want to rent from a landlord who had never met one person in the city where they own property? This is an excuse essential to the scam.

5. They ask for pictures. This is very likely to result in a discrimination lawsuit.  No Massachusetts landlord would dare ask for pictures in advance. This is part of the confidence trick. Requiring pictures makes you out to be the bad guy.  "If you don't look like a good person, you won't qualify." And the truth is, they're right. You'd have to be a very good person not to suspect a scam. So good people send over money, an application, and selfies. But hardened tenants know: these alleged "landlords" have never even been to Massachusetts before.


What about the bad grammar? Well, let's face it: being a good landlord doesn't require good grammar. This isn't necessarily a clue, although it certainly adds to the "foreign" feel of the email. It calls attention to the fact that everything else needs to line up, which it does not.


So that's the latest craigslist apartment rental scam. Very obvious once you know what to look for!

8 Responses to New Craigslist Apartment Rental Scam

  1. Katia says:

    Hello I wanted to let you know that this has happened to me but they say they live in Virginia and they cannot show me the place first until I send money through western union. I am not. I want to confront them through email since there is no other medium they have provided me with, but is there a way I can report them? Help please

  2. Beth says:

    Craigslist listing for the perfect house in East Falmouth, 30 Madeline Road. Total scam. Wanted a money gram and then would overnight the keys. They had to move to Florida for a construction job. Yeah right! Don’t rent this property.

    • Doug Quattrochi says:

      It could be that the property is fine, and that the scammer used a legitimate landlord’s listing as the bait.

  3. Marie says:

    I once used CL very frequently but over the past few years have encountered so many scammers it’s truly shocking…especially under the housing section. I can’t help but feel that CL could & should be doing more to avoid this kind of fraud. Allowing just anyone to post an ad on CL is not enough. Ask for more information from anyone wanting to post under the real estate section of CL.

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