Heed my words, STAY VIGILANT!
So this actually happened when searching for rentals out here in Arizona, near Scottsdale. I had stumbled across a fully furnished 758 sqft condo near Old Town Scottsdale for $1258/month, which is a steal being within walking distance to the bars and amenities that Old Town provides. Also, the month of March in the Phoenix area is like the busiest most expense time to rent so I was foaming at the mouth envisioning myself moving in there. The place had ample amounts of photos and a good listed description, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Understanding that Craigslist can be a sketchy place, I emailed the "owner" off my secondary email and waited for a response. To my surprise, I received a very thorough description of the property and the leasing process. It was formally written with proper grammar so I continued probing and was encouraged at the thought of moving in to this undervalued place and how it could potentially be a reality for me. After knocking out some of the nuts and bolts of the deal like AC control, parking spots, pet fees and whatnot, I asked how she preferred payment and how soon I could see the place...
This is where the real story begins. I received an email promptly that read like this:
"With my very busy schedule, it is not easy to come down and show the place each time anyone make inquiry. Am currently out of town for a medical appointment. My daughter is facing some medical issue at this time. Zelle or PayPal work perfectly as my preferred mode of payment because of the protection.
I would like to set aside some time to show you round the home and amenities soon even though I have decided that I would not be coming down only to show the place without commitment from the prospective renter as I have done last week and the other party failing to meet up with expectation wasting my time, effort and money. So, I make it so easy to stay in my home. Just drive straight to your rental and access my property with your unique lock code. When you book, I will send you my mobile app with directions and home instructions, so you can have full access to the interior and do a walk through on or prior to your move in date. And to your advantage, there is a cancellation policy on my lease agreement which allow you to make request for a full refund if you do not like the interior but am absolutely sure you will like it. It's a must I meet my tenant on move in day and equally show you round my home amenities to make your stay most memorable. Let me know your decision, so I can decide on the next line of action or if otherwise then we can listen to other offers."
Immediate red flags. First thing I noticed was her grammar began to break down, as if her pre-written responses had run out. I don't usually get too worked up about grammar but it was distinctly different wording than her previous two emails so I began to question. Also, family medical issues and previous bad experiences with prospective renters is stopping you from showing me your place? I had mentioned that I lived very close to Old Town already so meeting up was not an obstacle. So she's playing the sympathy card and encouraging me to pay in full first in order to see the place. Totally fishy, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt and probed some more.
I asked what the name of the complex was. She obliged and sent it to me. I googled it.. Oh, it's only 10 minutes away, let me go have a chat with the leasing office. She had also sent me some utility bill without an address on it and a half-assed "Leasing Agreement" in order to provide a sense of authenticity to her listing but I saw through her BS. I sent the leasing agreement to my lawyer for review (thank you Legal Shield) and called the leasing office before I showed up to see if they had a second to talk. Upon arrival, I had mentioned that I was in contact with an "owner" of a condo within their complex that I had met on Craigslist. I provided the name of said individual and they quickly looked through their owner directory and wouldn't you know it... they don't exsist. I mean of course I googled this human, and nothing substantial came up - no facebook, twitter, instagram, nothing. So this was the icing on the cake. The leasing office asked me for a unit number or some other identifier and the "owner" had not provided one so they were like, "Yeah, that's a scam."
Leaving the office somewhat vindicated, I emailed the scammer from my car in the parking lot, could not wait.
I had met with the condominium administration to verify your property ownership and they unfortunately have stated that no one named (Name Omitted) owns property in Sunscape Villas. I was wondering if it’s under a different name or if you had a unit number you could give me before I sign the lease and send you over the full amount via PayPal."
Her response.. LOL
I am the sole proprietors of the property which I decided to rent in my recent years. Am a high profiled personnel and what matters most to me is my integrity. I can forward you a copy of my ID and recent utilities bill which prove ownership of the property.
She's apparently too "high-profiled" to be listed in the owners directory at the leasing office.. lol. Sure. About the same time I received her response, my lawyer called me back and told me that the individual in question was not listed as an Arizona homeowner and that it's certainly a scam. So I proceeded to tell her essentially to kick rocks. She sent me her fake ID and another utility bill, without an address on it, anyway. I ceased communication with her and moved on to find a place on airbnb for around the same price, in another town.
Moral of the story, do your research and never send a payment without verifying ownership, at the very least. Unfortunately, travel nurses and other short term contractors are the subjects of these scams more so than others. Please stay vigilant and learn from my experience when you decide to find housing on your own.