Apartment Scams and the City – Or How I Almost Became Another Victim!

Hi house-hunters… It’s me – Alex H. I’m back. I felt a little guilty after leaving you with my last post and my dream stories of how I landed my first month’s worth of accommodation in New York City. It all sounded pretty perfect, huh! Well, let me be completely honest… just weeks before all this good news rolled in, I almost got done by an online scam. Almost. Real good.  Here’s what I learned:

Check #1. Verify that the address is real
I’d been warned about the scams on craigslist, so when I came across backpage.com, I was just as sceptical. One late night in my office, I scanned over the listings, filtered for Soho locations, and I came across a perfect rental at an actual real-life address in Soho.  Even the images of the inside somehow matched up to the windows and exterior of the building the ad was apparently showing. (I used Google and Google Maps to check.)

Check #2. Is the price too good to be true
The quick response I got from the “owner” pleasantly surprised me and a few emails we sent back and forth seemed somewhat too good to be true, but also remarkably genuine – a one bedroom, one bathroom, refurbished apartment on the corner of Broome St and Thompson St in Soho, NYC for $1300 per month, utilities included. Even I knew that it was a great deal but I swept aside my hesitations, thinking “What’s the worst that can happen? I’m $1600 down and a big lesson learned?” The “owner’s” emails were becoming forceful and it started to occur to me: if the New York rental market is so tight, why would this owner be chasing me?

Check#3. Verify that the landlord is a real person
I next received an email attachment with Western Union money transfer instructions and a directive to transfer this money directly to the owner’s accountant, who happened to be located somewhere in California. The alarm bells in my ears were becoming deafening. I began noticing a lack of proper grammar and poor English in some of the emails. I then noticed that “Stefanie’s” email name was in fact “Stefanle”. I Googled this supposed name and this con-artist had gone as far as to create a Twitter account, LinkedIn account and there were even a few results that indicated she was a realtor in New York City. (It’s also possible that this Stefanie/Stefanle is in fact a real estate agent, whose identity is being ripped-off by a con.)

Check #4. Follow the money!
I then searched the name of the accountant I was meant to be transferring funds to and the address that I was asked to include in the Western Union transfer and there it was, right in front of my eyes – PROOF OF SCAM. The man had set up a website to warn others about Stephanie. I immediately emailed him to thank and tell him that I had almost been done over too. As much as deep down I had been suspicious from the start, I was still shocked… a little shaken too.

A big lesson learned but I also felt a pinch of self-pride that I had gotten out of this one alive! I could survive the big bad world in the concrete jungle!

Don’t Let One Scam Dishearten Your Hunt
Last year I dealt with a great chick by the name of Jen, whose apartment in South Street Seaport, Lower Manhattan, I found on roomorama.com. Jen was a gorgeous host – leaving me cookies and wine and a list of great bars and restaurants nearby. The one thing Jen was sure about though was that she wanted the money side of things sorted out prior to her giving me her house keys. She apologised for being so blunt about it all, saying, “I’ve been in New York long enough to know all the scams that go on. I think you’re great and lovely but I just don’t take any chances”. At the time, I thought she was a little over-the-top – after all, I was a country girl fromAustralia. But I never forgot what Jen said, and despite how nuts I thought she was at the time, I now thank her making me suspicious and saving me getting scammed.

How to Know When It’s Legitimate
I know you’re probably wondering what convinced me the next two guys I dealt with were the real deal. Well, firstly, Airbnb has never failed me in the past. I have noticed a couple of dodgy deals on the search results here and there, where there are no reviews, no response history, no calendar dates blocked out and the whole ad just appears a little fishy – but I just don’t go near those. The two guys I have booked with for my upcoming move could have been nothing further from fishy! They have been complete gems. Their responses have been prompt, informative, accurate but also somewhat personal. Their email addresses, cell phone numbers and social network profiles have all been verified by Airbnb. We’ve had laughs and talked about things a little closer to home, like how much they loved the last Aussie that stayed with them and how Hurricane Sandy kicked their a$$! We’ve become friends on Facebook and I’ve been able to search around their workplace web pages and see photos of their weekends away with friends. One has even offered to help me network for a more permanent place to live and a job. Honestly, if no one answers my knock at the door on the evening of my arrival, I will be completely, utterly disappointed and shocked, because I’ve felt totally at ease dealing with the guys from both properties.

I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Author My First Apartment

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