I consider myself pretty street smart. Usually, I can sniff out the con artist in the crowd. And I think I’m pretty good at knowing when someone’s being disingenuous. I knew, for instance, right away that Make Mike Jason Smith was a Nigerian in a very, very stylish 20-something’s clothing when he emailed and said he was interested in the room I had for rent on Craigslist. I knew that all his cronies were frauds too (though that may have had less to do with my street smarts with more with the fact that ALL the emails followed the same basic formula. Every last one of them “was into fashion design”, and “was not gay, but was totally, totally cool with it”.)
Something about this place, though -or maybe just this period in my life- has turned me into something of a village idiot. I have not fallen prey to one, but TWO different scams in the last year. The first one involved a teenager selling overpriced magazine subscriptions door to door this past Fall. And the second one happened on Saturday.
I’m going to make some effort to defend myself here… even though I feel ashamed and embarrassed at what was an undeniably stupid decision on my part, made in haste, and without listening to my gut instincts.
On Saturday, CLH and I went looking for houses to rent. We had seen what amounted to a whole pile of uninhabitable wrecks, with a few cookie cutter condo units thrown in for good measure. We were exhausted. But we’d seen this ad the night before that looked too good to be true (BIG. RED. FLAG. IGNORED.) and we wanted to jump on it. So, we stopped in at a local bar to see if we could set up our laptops, revisit the ad, and follow the instructions for setting up a viewing. There are a few things to consider here before I go any further which might explain why this particular scam worked on us. First, CLH and I are desperate to move. We want out BAD. Secondly, we were hot, thirsty, cranky, and had very low blood sugar when finally stopped to sit down. Thirdly, we couldn’t get either of our laptops to access the wireless Internet, so we had to resort to using CLH’s new 3G iPhone to access the website. And, as everyone knows, though the new iPhone can do many, many, many things, it still has a screen the size of a slice of Spam, and many things that would otherwise look suspect on a big screen look perfectly normal on this tiny screen. So you can kind of understand why we thought the request to fill out an semi-application online seemed like a perfectly legitimate request. We even asked our real-estate agent friend about it and she seemed to think it was perfectly routine.
It turns out it is NOT perfectly routine. It is also not a legitimate service. It IS a scam designed to have you fork over $15 dollars (again, not an ungodly sum- hence our willingness) and some pertinent information so that this “third party” can “pre-screen” you for your potential landlord. When you initially email the owner of the property, you are sent a message back from some ridiculous made up name (I got “Kenna Chillinskas”, which I’m thinking of naming my first dog) redirecting you to a website (erentalapplications.com) that will then ask you to fill out an application. What is actually happening is this: the scam artists are grabbing ads from craigslist and the like, deleting the original owner’s information, replacing it with theirs, and claiming that they have the ability to schedule a showing of the property… right after you give them some information via their nifty little website.
Somehow, we avoided surrendering our social security numbers, but the ass clowns at erentalapplications.com now have our current address and phone numbers. I did a little sleuthing this morning to find out more about the site (thank jeebus for Google), and found multitudes of information about it, including a replica of the EXACT email I was sent when I emailed the “owner” asking about the property.
The more I read this morning, the more angry I became. I eventually had to walk away from my computer because smoke was coming out of my ears and I didn’t want to have to explain to the neighbors that those fire trucks out front? Yeah, those were there because I had set the couch on fire with the stream of flame that had come shooting out of my mouth.
Still, I needed to do something. So, I just wrote down the first thing that came to my mind. And then I hit “send”. I’m not exactly sure where this touch of bravado (or violence) came from… though, if I had to guess, I would say it came from the gaping, gory crater in my soul where I used to house a love for all things craigslist – and which has been replaced by a blackened, hardened little rock which I now use to pelt email scammers in the groin. Behold, the writings of a woman scorned (and not just a little out of her mind):
“You have been reported to the local police as a potential scammer. The
authorities at Craisglist have been notified as well. If you don’t
take down your ad, your email address will be used as a vehicle to
infiltrate your personal information, and you will be hunted down and
possibly killed. I have my people working on this. You have just
messed with the wrong folks.”