3 types of rental scams on craigslist

By Stew

I like Craigslist and both Mrs. Stew and I buy and sell frequently on the sight. Sometimes we do well . . . other times not so well, but I still heartily recommend this mostly free website. It is the modern-day equivalent of the yard sale, except Craiglist probably brings more eyes than telephone pole signs and balloons tied to the mailbox.

Over the past few months, we have been looking for a new place to rent. There are so many websites to choose from when looking for a home to buy or rent that it is impossible to keep up with all of them, so we focused on Craigslist. We were quickly exposed to the usual Craigslist scams and quickly learned to spot them. Here are three types of rental property scams that we observed:

Nigerian Landlord

I wrote about this scam earlier in the month and posted the exact text from the email conversation that I had with some individual from overseas who wanted to rent a house to me. When answering another ad, I had contact with a “landlord” from the United Kingdom. Both claimed to be Christians involved in mission work and both claimed to be very, very trustworthy.

The way these scams work is when you call or email about the property, eventually the “landlord” will tell you that you can get the keys after you send the deposit via money order, wire, MoneyGram, etc. Obviously, once you send payment, you will never be sent a set of keys and you will probably never hear from the property owner ever again. The reason that this scam sometimes works is because the deal being advertised is really good, almost too good to be true. When I ran up against this type of scam, the rental unit was being offered for roughly half of the going market price.

Stolen Identity

At one point, I inquired about an apartment for rent and the person claiming to be the rental manager wanted me to give the information necessary for a credit report and even supplied me with a link to a website purporting to be able to generate such a report. Here’s the thing – she wanted me to fill out the report before touring the property, before filling out a rental application and before she would even tell me the exact location of the property!

She explained all of this by saying that she wanted to make sure that I was a credit-worthy candidate before going forward and did not want to waste her time if we had bad credit. She also explained that when they had revealed the property location in the past, vandalism took place. On this point, she was probably telling the truth, the property was probably vandalized after the person’s identity was stolen . . . well, if the property really existed in the first place. The final piece to the puzzle for me was that she did not ask me to pay for the credit report. Every single property that we looked at required $25 to $35 application fee in order to generate the credit report. This owner was going to run my credit report for free.


This is not always a straight-up attempt to rip you off, but the rent-to-own advertisements are misleading. The ad will reference a property with a certain number of bedrooms and baths at a great price. The problem is that when you call or email, you are told that the property in the ad is not available, but they are willing to find “several similar properties” for you to look at and they “sold one just like it the other day”. Many times this group will offer to purchase a house that you like and then rent it to you. Again, these folks are not doing anything illegal, but they are frustrating to deal with when all you want to do is simply find a house or apartment to rent.

We are still using Craigslist to look for a place to rent, but as soon as we catch a whiff that we are dealing with one of the above scams, we immediately mark the ad as “spam” or “miscategorized”.


13 Responses (including trackbacks) to “3 types of rental scams on craigslist”

  1. Victoria Says:

    I’ve run into the same type of scam with car ads on Craigslist. Out of state owner, selling son’s car, etc. I’m wondering why people have to take something that is so good and helpful and make it into a huge snake pit!

  2. Emily Says:

    What’s really sad is that so many people get sucked into those scams. And people whom one would consider pretty intelligent.

  3. Nail Yener Says:

    Craigslist is a great classifieds site but unfortunately too many people use it for scamming purposes as well.

  4. Cullen Webb Says:

    Site, not sight.

    Anyway, this is a good post. It’s very frustrating the number of scams on Craigslist, especially when selling. Sellers no longer like to leave their own email addresses because of the auto-bots that retrieve them.

    God bless!

  5. Eva Says:

    I do not appreciate that you classified a whole group of people into a scam. What do you mean by”Nigerian scam” the other scams do not have an “American” name by it. And I thought as “Christians” we learned not discriminate and accept people. It is like Madoff never existed but if it did, it is not called “Jewish scam” or an “Israeli scam” but a ponzi scheme.

    There are 200 million people living in Nigeria including WHITE people and only about 0.00001% participate in scams. It is totally unfair that 99.99999$ of the other people are categorized as scammers.

  6. Eva Says:

    i meant 99.99999%

  7. Stew Says:

    Madoff did not carry out his scam via spam emails and Craigslist. His scam more closely resembled Social Security – a ponzi scam.

    Obviously not all Nigerians are scammers, however I have run into two craigslist scammers from Nigeria and many more who have sent me emails. Even our government warns about “Nigerian scams”.

  8. Cullen Webb Says:


    Are you accusing Stew of writing an entire post to criticize Nigeria? I think that’s below him.

    The fact of the matter is that scammers often associate themselves with a foreign country. In this case Nigeria.

    I have gotten dozens of African Prince scams, Western Union scams, Money order scams and the like. That in no way means that Africa, Princes, Western Union, or Money Orders are bad things. Just that they are used by scammers.

  9. Stew Says:

    Thanks, Cullen. It was not my intent to impune Nigeria, however, these scams are often conducted by individuals claiming to be from that country to the point that the name of the country has become synonymous with “419” scams. The government of Nigeria is attempting to deal with the issue: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/105425/Microsoft_working_with_Nigeria_to_crack_down_on_scams

    I hope that they will get them under control. I used the term “nigerian” because very few people understand the term “419”.

  10. Jennifer Says:

    I had that exact craigslist scam happen to me.

    My rental listing was copied and reposted on craigslist. They reduced the rent to half the amount, added their contact info and attached a form asking for personal info and the deposit. I would have never known except for a phone call from a potential renter who saw my ad AND their ad and wondered which one listed the correct rental amount?

    I pretended to be a renter and contacted the scammers. They told me the exact same story you mention here.

  11. Jennifer Says:

    By the way Stew, please take a look at a website I started with three other moms to help anyone with a student loan pay it down ‘little by little’


    Thanks! Jennifer

  12. Jack_of_all_trades Says:

    There are some guidelines to follow if one wants not to be the subject of a renting fraud from Craiglist, Ebay, etc. : http://www.financialcrisistoday.org/forum/Small-Business/Ebay-or-Amazon-or-Craiglist-434774.htm
    I will try to mention some:
    – Try to receive the landlord’s ID – record all the information you can squeeze from it.
    – Use an internet browser to search name of the renter, adding quotes around their name. You could try add the words “scam” or “fraud” at the end of your search.
    – Check his phone number, seeing if he hasn’t given many other phone names to other people they are who they say they are.
    – Visit the local county courthouse check the property ownership of the apartment.
    -They don’t ask for an application or permission to check your credit? Or do they check it for free? That’s weird!
    -Ask the landlord if they’re current on their mortgage payments, and then get their answer in writing.
    If you follow these guidelines, you’re chances to be the object of a fraud will diminish drastically.

  13. Kristin Ward Says:

    Its not just renters that have issues with this. It can cause a great deal of trouble for landlords. I had one of my apartments used in a scam, one that was actually for rent. You can image my surprise when a guy shows up and cusses me out because his key doesn’t work in an apartment that is currently vacant.

    Its not exactly an easy situation for the landlord. Often times the rent is quite a bit lower then what it should be. Not to mention that scammers don’t exactly care who they get their money from since their not actually renting.

    The guy that showed up had bad credit when I ran his report through http://www.tenantverification.com/. Couldn’t pay the actual price of the rent. No deposit, bad credit and not enough income. What am I suppose to do? The guy is to high a risk a tenant and I depend on rent to pay my bills.

    I didn’t scam him. Nor did I fall for a scam for an apartment that is ridiculously too low for the area. And yet some how I’m the bad guy. Then of course there is the lovely chat with the cops after the guy got done screaming at me and called them.

    This is a rather frustrating situation all around and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do to stop it.