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Housing Scams

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Another type of scam  involves real estate that is posted via classified advertisement websites. …. When the victim sends an email through the classified advertisement website inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The “owner” claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country.–From FBI website.

About two weeks ago I began looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco. I knew it was going to be a long, hard journey given what I can afford—so I was delighted and surprised when I saw several possibilities on Craigslist. Here’s the first ad I responded to, for a place in the Sunset @ $800/month, which, as anyone knows, is usually about enough to rent an outhouse.

$800 AFFORDABLE HOUSING (SF bay area): A clean,calm,and cozy room fir rent in my 2BR/2BA House. Looking for a responsible and matured person to rent house. Features -Heat-Hot-water-Light-Gas-TV-Cable-Free wifi-Internet connection-Microwave-Washer and dryer.  cats are OK – purr / dogs are OK – woof

Wow, thought I, is this for real? Maybe everyone’s been steering me wrong about the rental market. Maybe it recently changed and nobody noticed. Or maybe this is a fluke, and I’m just lucky; after all, my hypnotist promised my life would get easier when I quit smoking. Or maybe, I thought, my spirits sinking just a bit, something is wrong here. (Little voice inside, bell tinkling in background: You know damn well something is wrong here.)

 I sent off a query about the house—yes, it was a whole house! This is the message I got in response:

Thank you so much for the interest in my House, Well am Mary Nicholas ,27 years old, a Christian, single not married, no kids as well, am a cool calm and collected kind of person, I am always at home most times when am around, Am an engineer working for SHELL PETROLUM COMPANY(CONTRACT STAFF),I actually travel most times on researches but Prensently am in Manila, Philippine to make a research on the galoc crude oil and i will be needing a Tenant who will take care of the apartment while am away because i would be here for a year and half. I am looking for a responsible and clean Tenant that will take good care of my House. Below is the address of the apartment so that you can go and check out the exterior, get back to me as soon as you check out the place and let me know if you wish to proceed in renting my room so that i can send you the interior pictures.Location :1551 22nd Ave. San Francisco,Ca,San Francisco , CA 94122… Hope to read from you soon. Have a wonderful day. Best regards.GOD BLESS YOU..

My first thought, insanely enough, was, Do I want a rabid Christian as a landlord?  How I wish she had been!  I began exchanging emails with “Mary Nicholas,” who got increasingly eager with each message, to the point where I could move in the next day. She’d send the keys by courier. She didn’t ask me anything about myself. Those warning bells were making a racket in my head, but I clung to a thread of hope–until I answered another ad for an apartment and received this response:

Thank you for the most eloquent response to my listing, I’m the owner of the property.Actually i resided in the apartment with my family before and presently we had packed due to my missionary program for UNICEF, and now situated in Philippines and presently my apartment is still available for rent, We try to look for an honest Agent or a Friend that we can give the Keys and document before we left but could not see and we dont want our apartment to be used anyhow in our Absent that is why i brought the keys along with me here. Pls get back to me on how you could take care of my Apartment or perhaps experience you have in renting apartments, Hope you are okay with the Monthly price which includes all utilities bills Electricity, water, heating, internet, disposal bills, etc….Please i want you to note that i’m a kind and honest man and … money is not the most important thing but i want you to keep it tidy all the time so that i will be glad to see it neat whenever i come for a check up.

Well, I finally admitted to myself, this is indeed a scam. The two alleged individuals even said they were in the same country, for god sakes! Before I could decide what to do, I got yet a third  response to another query of mine:

Thanks for your interest in my property. I am looking for a responsible & clean tenant that will be able to take good care of my apartment because I work as Oil Expatriates and I do travel a lot, Presently I am in Philippines for a research and I don’t know when I will return back to the apartment that’s why am looking for a good tenant who will live in the apartment and take care of it. The apartment is available for long term and short term lease is also accepted….


I wrote to Craigslist with a complaint. I tried to get onto their forums to see if anyone was talking about scams, but was defeated by their technology. A few days later I sent a second email, still unacknowledged. CL employs hardly any staff, that’s how they can offer the service free, so it’s unlikely they’re going to get involved. I did some online research, and the first place I hit was the FBI with the quote on housing scams up above displayed front and center on their page. I was itching  to DO something, anything, to tell these low-life’s (or one low-life for all I know) that I was onto them. So I sent them—or one person at one address—an email with lame threats of lawsuits and the FBI. The response I got, compared to their previous messages, was in perfect, crystal clear English:

“Go fuck yourself like seriously”

So I’m posting this story any place I can think of just to let people know about these scams—though maybe other people get it immediately. Me, I’m more optimistic than anyone thinks I am: until the second scammer, I allowed hope to spring eternal from my far too human heart.

Anyone who wants to repost this anywhere, please spread the word.  Let’s stop these ruthless people. Don’t be scammed!


4 responses »

  1. Glad you figured it out in time, Marcy. It’s a sad sign of our times that we need to be so suspicious, but if we aren’t we’ll get eaten alive.

  2. Hi, I just got an email back from a differently written CL post and got that response back the “Mary Nicholas ,27 years old,a christian,single not married,no kids as well” actually, all the grammar errors hinted me to think I should check it out. Plus I asked a specific question and didn’t get a response to it, soo. Yeah, I guess these scams are put together by desperate people in places where english is not their first language. anywho, glad I googled part of her letter to find this… now I know.

  3. Totally on them… I got the same “Christian, single, no kids” crap with the GOD BLESS YOU at the end of the message. And before that I also got one from ANOTHER guy also claiming he worked for unicef and went to Manila… thank god they’re not even creative and are just copypasting this crap… It’s so great that you didn’t fall for it. It’s unbelievably weird that someone would send their HOUSE KEYS by courier service!!!
    Btw, I’m also looking for a place in SF, did you finally find one? I’ll be arriving on August 20th and am doing INTENSE apartment hunt with poor results. If you know of any other method besides craigslist please let me know. And congrats on this blog, really. BEWARE SCAMMERS everyone.

  4. You were right to let the scam artists know That youre on to them But…I would Still get all the emails in An envelope & still notify The fbi &; local authorities…because a family with kids can
    Respond then be scammed Or even a senior person Any elderly person Especially would think Thats a great deal & may Not know about the scam send the money to this psycho scam artist With no remorse at all For the crap shes pulling knowing she may get a Person to fall into her scamSo please do notify the right
    Authorities about this scam As soon as possible? Yes it is very sad to see
    & hear of–sorry exscuse For human beings to do This to whoever they can Find vulnerable to fall right
    For their senseless scam & not care who they hurt…These are the one type of Lunatics that need to be
    Locked up & throw away the Key. make them suffer Just as they have the Innocent people their sorry
    Butts scammed!

    It’s nice you’re so concerned, but I wonder why you assume a senior person is more likely to fall for such a scam. In fact, I AM a senior.–MS

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