How do you cope after a Craigslist scam?

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Seems Legit T-Shirt by ChummyTees
My partner and I sort-of fell for a Craigslist scam. We didn’t lose any money thank goodness, but some personal information has been compromised, and I wasted three days of apartment hunting and emotional investment on this place.

The logistical next steps are covered (we made complaints to Craigslist, the Internet Crime Complaints website, and the FTC; we’re putting fraud alerts on our credit reports). It doesn’t help that it’s student move-in week in a college town so most everything is booked, and as a result there are A LOT of scams going on Craigslist right now — over 50% of the ads I’ve clicked in fact.

But how do you cope emotionally after being scammed? I feel like now I’m seeing scams everywhere, even on the ones that aren’t. I’m frustrated and disappointed and disillusioned, and maybe just a little embarrassed. I feel like there is no way we will ever find an affordable place with our specifications and now I’m gun-shy about private contracts for housing. –Heather

Comments on How do you cope after a Craigslist scam?

  1. That sucks. I’m sure you feel pretty violated, it is a similar emotional reaction to the one you have after your home is burglarized. Suddenly the world as you know it is a different place, your imagined barriers of safety have been breached, and it’s hard not to see a potential rip-off in every interaction. I’m not going to lie, it just takes awhile for that feeling to subside. I think it’s a deeply ingrained defense mechanism that kicks in after something like that happens. It took me six months to feel safe in my house after it was burglarized; I got burned for a significant amount of money (for me anyway) via eBay and I honestly haven’t used it since. And that was 8 years ago.

    Hopefully you have been able to nip any fraud in the bud, and you will have to chalk this up to an uncomfortable lesson. Unfortunately, we do live in a world where there are lots of scams. I’ve known people who were job hunting via craigslist who fell for similar scams and had personal information stolen. It just might be possible that craigslist is not the best place to do business right now. I know how frustrating it is to try to find an affordable rental in a college town. Your best bet might be to use a property management service, even though that might not be your ideal. They have tons of rentals, and if you are honest with them about your needs they will be able to help you find something that you can afford. Plus, there are rules that they have to follow that private landlords might not have to, so your chances of getting screwed over again are slimmer.

    I hope you find something, and I’m sorry that this happened to you.

    • I DO feel violated! That wasn’t really how I had thought of it, and I couldn’t put it into words, but that really resonates.

      As a result of this scam, and sort of due to my apartment requirements involving some disability accommodation, we’ve ended up focusing on places that are company-owned for our search. So, apartment buildings rather than houses that have been converted into apartments, or even duplexes and such. My credit sucks right now, so going with companies rather than individual owners is a down side there because offering to pay an extra month’s rent up front or a higher deposit isn’t as effective in swaying their decisions, but when I say I have a service animal they know how to deal with it and most of the multi-level places run by companies are more likely to have elevators. They are also a bit more expensive. I feel like I have to choose between “definitely affordable,” “accessible,” and “doesn’t care about my credit.”

      • That’s a crappy position to be in. I know about bad credit…mine has been screwed up, laboriously fixed, and then screwed up again by a divorce. I have never bothered to try to fix it this time, but I’m in the lucky position of not needing it for much anymore. I can’t imagine having to find a rental with it, especially given the requirements people have now. I hope you’re able to find something that works for you.

  2. The good news is–you live in a college town. Everyone’s moving in and once they’re settled, people who rent are going to be willing to wheel and deal on the properties that aren’t filled. I suggest going on foot and looking for signs in the yard.
    Insist that you see the property before much information is given and that you get to meet the landlord face-to-face. I think asking for your names, current address and to see your ID is pretty standard before letting you onto the property. If the landlord gets pushy or wants what seems like an unreasonable amount of information or money, walk away. Once the big moving season is over, you’ll actually see the number of scams decrease–these scams often ramp up to catch out of town students who are trying to rent from afar.

    • This totally reminds me of a blog I read this week, about a handyman who steals her engagement ring after she trusted him for a few weeks working on her house: http://keepingupwiththeholsbys.com/2013/08/25/the-thing-about-trust/

      At the end, the advice I resonated with was: “Don’t let this change the person that you are. You trust people, and that’s a good thing.” Sure there’s taking precautionary measures, but maintaining trust in people, and like Ariel said, doing good things for others can help. Don’t let the bad guys win by turning you into someone who can’t trust others again.

      • While I see this bloggers point and can agree with her on some of it, some of the things she’s talking about seem contrary to common sense in my opinion. I know that she does not seem to be based in the US, so it might be a cultural difference, but where I live if you leave your car unlocked and it or your belongings are stolen, there is a pretty good chance that your insurance isn’t going to pay for whatever was taken (because the burden of making sure your stuff is secure is seen to be on you) . That might be a small thing…but really you can be trusting in your interactions with others (not always assume they mean the worst) without being downright careless (leaving things unlocked because you feel like taking the time to secure your belongings somehow lessens you as a person.) Again, it might be a cultural/locational difference. I was raised to secure my belongings, and to lock doors; it’s just the world we live in, I don’t think being careful diminishes anyone’s humanity. It’s no different than her being wary about meeting the thief in the park, or a person being a little more aware of their surroundings when walking down a dark alley; sometimes bad things happen anyway, but a little intelligent caution is never misplaced.

    • Do something good for someone. I guess I don’t see how that will make me feel less skittish about apartment hunting, but I can definitely see how it would make me feel happier in general!

      I did get some satisfaction over making all the complaints and reports to the various agencies. It helped me feel like maybe someone else won’t get caught in that scam, with all the effort I put into reporting it.

    • Actually once I posted that I DID think of how that would help me be less skittish about apartment hunting. My issue is that I’m having trouble trusting people even when they mean me no harm, so doing something good for someone will help restore my faith in humanity. And really I guess that’s what I need the most.

  3. Play it safe. You got scammed and you will probably always be VERY careful now. Remember that it wasn’t your fault and you handled it brilliantly. Craigslist is obviously a mixed bag of scams and genuine articles. I don’t know about how to emotionally deal with this situation, except to remember that it. was. not. your. fault. You could also talk to a counselor about it if you think that would work for you, but aside from that maybe put some “checks” in place to help to feel confident and safe when looking for housing.

    If you’re in a college town then the college might have resources that helps students find reliable apartments. Even if you’re not a student you might be able to access those resources or contact them about places in the area that they might have been in contact with before. Also, your township might have some helpful resources for you.

    Good luck 🙂

  4. Campus-based resources or websites centered on student housing in your area may also have information about who to avoid!

    Likewise, if you go the route of a larger apartment complex/property management service you can look for reviews of their properties on yelp or similar websites. I rented my current apartment (near a university) before I moved to the area, and before I chose a place, I read online reviews of the local apartment complexes.

    The good thing about college-area properties is that lots of young people are in and out of them all the time (as others have pointed out), and these tenants are likely to comment about their experiences online in various places – if there is something fishy, someone else in your area may have encountered it too, and that might come up in a search for the supposed property.

    You can even look up property listings/sales records to really get the down-and-dirty info on who owns the building and when it was last sold (and for how much!). I think most towns and cities provide this online, or you can find information in city/town halls (if your location is in the US, which I’ve assumed, though if not then I don’t know).

    It’s not foolproof, but the ability to do research may help provide a bit of a reality check – you’ll be able to see that the properties listed correspond to actual apartments, or that the person you are communicating with indeed owns the property, or whatever it is that might help you feel a bit more secure. Even if you feel uncomfortable about your own instincts right now (understandably!), remember that you can still do research and learn what others have said about the properties and landlords you are looking into. Knowledge is power! 😉

  5. When I was fresh out of college, and not sure where else to look for jobs, I spent a lot of time on Craigslist job searching. The number of multi-level marketing posts and job listings that are there purely to get your e-mail address for spamming purposes is heartbreaking. I spent months putting in job applications, and got a small mountain of spam and only one or two actual interviews. Coupled with the job that I DID wind up getting (a low level retail job with constantly swinging shifts and a jerk manager), it really did a number on my self esteem. I’m still trying to remember that I’m not a talentless failure.

  6. That’s the worst. I live in a huge college town and it’s nearly impossible to find affordable and reliable housing even remotely close to campus between June and September. I had to move last summer and this summer as well, and I was only able to find a place on craigslist by hitting “refresh,” every five minutes or so, and immediately calling anyone offering a private rental within my price range. It really helps if you can get time away from work on short notice, as many landlords will want to show their properties at the absolute worst times, like Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m. In my personal experience, if you aren’t able to essentially drop everything you’re doing and run over to meet the property owner, someone will take it before you. I have had apartments snatched out from under me in the 30 minutes it took to fill out an application and drive it to the landlord’s house or rental office. Really, the key is just persistence–that, coupled with the knowledge that you are probably not going to find what you want by clicking on listings written in all caps, or without an exact address or personal telephone number. Be wary of any “too good to be true” posting that’s been posted multiple times. Most of the really good ones are taken down within hours of when they were posted.

  7. I encountered a lot of false listings when I was looking on Craigslist to rent also. What? A 4 bedroom house on the lake for $700 a month with gorgeous pictures? Turns out if you google the address, the house is actually for sale, and the fraudulent CL post used the pictures right from the realtor’s website. A couple weeks later there was a special on the local news about false listings, so the problem wasn’t limited to our experience!
    After getting burned by a private landlord, I was reluctant to go that route again. But my current landlord is an awesome father/daughter team. They both met us in person at the house for a tour. They were proud of how they had fixed up the house and pointed out a couple things they were still working on. Their lease was not just a 1 page form that had been photocopied 10 times, but it was based on the guidelines from the state in clear language and they had added some specific clauses that were reasonable to us. During a second meeting where we signed the lease, they gave us a receipt for our deposit. We also googled them and made sure they lived where they said they lived. We looked up the property on Zillow. And we also poked around and talked to the neighbors who told us about who lived there before, etc. This is obviously easier to do in some areas than others. They still could have been fantastic actors, but they seemed authentic to my husband and I, so we went for it. Three years later we’re still happy with our choice.
    But the point of this is that we did a lot of things to make us feel more confident in our choice so even if we got screwed over, there were no “we should have…”s. Yes, there are scamming assholes out there, but there are also a lot of nice people trying to make a living. Going forward for you, I would say make a list of concerns. Even write them out to make sure you cover them all during the course of the phone call or meeting. Try to spread out the paperwork/tours over multiple visits to allow yourself to make the decision confidently. Also if someone is trying to scam you, they typically use as little contact as possible.
    LOTS of people fall for scams- that’s why scammers keep doing what they do. That’s why there are news stories and internet posts about it! Don’t be embarrassed.
    There are nice people out there who manage private properties to support their families. They aren’t all jerkwads.
    Be as prepared as you can with how to get the information you need. Make a list of red flags. And trust yourself to make a good decision!

  8. Ugh, that sucks- while luckily the ones I encountered were obvious enough that I didn’t believe them, over half of the apartment listings that I responded to on craigslist (and I was responding to several every other day for two months) were scams. It was incredibly disheartening, and made me not want to look at them on the site anymore.

    My advice would just echo what people have already said- be super careful, but don’t let it change you or scare you off of legit deals. Try not to blame yourself – it wasn’t your fault. Also, if you don’t live in the area and are trying to negotiate solely online, do you have a friend in the area who can scope it out for you? Showing the apartment is a pretty good sign it’s not a scam.

    • In our case we did actually have someone go check the place out in person, so we were able to see at least that the pictures matched the property, and the address existed. As a result of that, we had a bunch of people who said they would be happy to check out some places for us in their area, so had we needed to keep hunting from afar we could have had people Skype with us and tour the apartments if we needed to. Fortunately my partner got a job in the area we are moving to, so we have to be here anyway and can apartment hunt in his off hours. We didn’t need to tap those resources, though couch surfing has its own set of challenges.

      But in case anyone else is reading, having friends in the area who can check places out for you is invaluable! Go ahead and have them knock on the door!! I suspect we would have discovered the scamminess earlier if he had, because a place that was supposed to be empty had people in it–maybe they WERE people who were packing up the house or house sitting for the owner, but maybe they were people who lived there. Suspected scamminess, they probably lived there, but we would have known that instead of trusting the one person supplying our entire flow of information. And I think that’s the best lesson I got out of all this, which the comments are giving great examples of: Get information from multiple sources! By doing so you WILL end up with some conflicting info, and that’s where I’m getting skittish, but I KNOW that just because a restaurant is listed on Yelp! as being wheelchair accessible, doesn’t mean it is. So just because someone had a bad experience or someone else had a great one, doesn’t make the landlord a bad (or good) landlord. An average of the conflicting info is probably worth trusting.

  9. I wish I had advice on how to feel safe/happy/not emotionally wrecked, but I don’t. 🙁 One step forward, every day, keep movin’. Don’t overthink. It’s all I got.

    As for landlords…this is why I don’t think I’m ever leaving my current place (in Taipei). My landlady is a Buddhist nun.

  10. I was in a situation awhile ago in which I wasn’t exactly scammed, but I did (reluctantly) loan a bunch of money to some friends for them to do something that it turned out they had researched very poorly – so ultimately they completely wasted all of it and could not pay me back. I felt so angry and taken-advantage-of and like I didn’t want to trust anyone – particularly friends – again.

    My dad said something that was really helpful for me, which is that if you were going to go take a college-level economics, business, or gen-ed class on something like “Handling Money in the 21st Century” or “Skepticism and Mistrust in Informal Business Interactions,” you would have to pay for it! And, you would waste a whole semester worth of class time studying and taking tests, and in the end you probably wouldn’t even learn the lessons as deeply and productively as you do by actually having things happen in the real world.

    So you could look at it like you were lucky enough to get an almost-free class in how scamming works (as opposed to one of the more expensive ones that some people end up taking), or maybe that you did have to pay with some anxiety and a few wasted days, but in return you have received some deep-down serious training in how to spot scams, so you won’t have to worry about this so much in the future.

    • That is an awesome perspective! One thing I learned: Where to make complaints about internet scams. Another thing I learned: KEEP ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS. It was the lots of questions and knowing our resources that ultimately saved us from losing out on any money. So seeing it as a learning experience has been super helpful.

  11. I fell for a rental scam earlier this year and lost over 1000$ in it – I was searching from abroad, so no personal checking-out was possible, and the person I was in contact with just sounded so incredible nice.
    Well, I discovered the scam when they asked for more money. I did a google picture search, and found the pictures they had posted were holiday homes somewhere else…
    I was able to backtrack the emails they sent me to Nigeria.
    The police told me that because of the internationality of the issue, there is no hope to ever catch these people.
    What I learned from that:
    1.google the email address of your contact. There are actually lists of email addresses used for scams
    2. backtrack the email address
    2. picture search. just drag and drop a picture in the search field.
    3. never send scans of personal documents
    4. never use Western Union or similar agencies. NO MATTER WHAT. NEVER EVER.

    The emotional side is a lot harder, as you have noticed… I cried for 2 days, and felt very very hurt and violated. I try to see it as a training in forgiving. These people live shitty lives, and although that’s no excuse for anything, I try to find pity in my heart.
    Talking to people I realized that quite a few of them had experience with scams! That helped too, and although I felt ashamed, I stated to spread the story around. If others had spoken about it, maybe I would have been more aware.
    Also, I wrote emails to housing websites telling them that my identity had been stolen and all ads using my name are scam.

    In the end, I think most importantly we have to remind ourselves that THEY are the bad people. It is not our fault, not at all, and we didn’t deserve it.

    All the best for you and good luck finding a nice place to live!

  12. This is kind of timely – just found out that my credit card information was compromised yesterday and some fraudulent charges went through. Not the same thing, but I definitely feel similarly violated and nervous. I mean, if it happened once, it can totally happen again. But luckily, it was noticed, and it’s going to be fine. I think the lesson is just constantly Staying Alert and doing your due diligence on people/situations/unusual activity.

  13. Oof. We very nearly avoided one of these. It was a gorgeous townhouse for waaaay too little money for the area. We were allowed to go look at it, but told that if we wanted it, we’d have to move forward that weekend, because the property was “first come, first served”. In the end, it was too fishy for us.

    I did feel betrayed by Craiglist after that, and we didn’t even lose any money or personal information. We were fortunate enough to find a literal drawer full of mail for someone when looking through the house, and we came to find out that this house was in the process of being foreclosed on and the agent showing us the house had nothing to do with any of that. In the end, we wound up continuing to use Craiglist, but researching the ever-loving daylights out of any listing. It was a pain and I felt mistrustful and dirty doing all of this digging, but in the end we found something that we love owned by a small business in the area. It didn’t hurt that the owners of the company (brothers) know the Vice President of the company I work for, who also knows my mother in law. Having the local connection helped so much.

    In the end, putting our energy into the relatively negative work of fact checking everything paid off, and we celebrated by putting energy into other positive things- hobbies, getting things packed and ready for the new house. Sometimes, we had to forcibly take our minds off the fact that there are nasty people out there who take advantage of young people struggling in this market and look at cat pictures on the internet for a while. It helped.

  14. There are so many scammers, it is nuts! We were trying to rent out a room in our home on craigslist and I think 3 of the 30 responses were people who were actually interested and not scammers. It was so frustrating. I started not being able to trust any of the responses. MY husband luckily found someone he knew to rent the room, I was totally not comfortable doing it through CL after all the BS replies we got.

  15. Just spent 2 months finding a roommate via CL, and then got my wallet stolen at my favorite bar, so I both related to that terrible, gut twisting feeling of being violated when you were trusting, and not knowing how to trust folks again.

    In my case, when I was apartment hunting, I wrote my SSN on way too many random people’s applications. I never got burned, but I thought a A LOT about that at the time. In the end, I determined that just because it was on an application, didn’t make it necessary, just as giving out your bank account numbers isn’t necessary. I also took the trouble of pulling a current credit report and giving it out to those who asked and seemed legit enough to get it, and I could again control the SSN availability. Unless there is a law in your area, I wouldn’t put that info on an application right now.

    As for trust, I just went back to the bar where my wallet was stolen. I learned a costly lesson, but I tried to take the lesson and let go of the negativity. I now will ALWAYS either wear my purse (no matter how heavy!) or pair down and wear a hip belt. I made a compromise that I would still have fun, let myself BE bitter when I wanted to, and then continue about my life.

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