Last week I upgraded my apartment hunting from investigative research to active outreach. And already the scammers have spotted my optimistic innocence. Fortunately, I’m still jaded enough to see reality behind rainbows. Or maybe I’m just too jaded to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow. Honestly, I don’t know what’s what anymore.
Only a few rentals and sublets have begun advertising January availability. So as I comb through November and December move-in dates, my options are still limited. But scattered throughout the various sites are rentals for 2011. Beginning with craigslist, I started reaching out to several advertisers – mostly short-term, furnished sublets.
I didn’t receive any responses for a few days. But on Friday I finally received a response regarding a 1-bedroom for 600 euros (about $850). The price would be perfect – though surprisingly low. And based on the Google street view, the apartment’s location would be dreamy – around the corner from the park and a bike ride from the University. Based on the pictures, it’s super cute, inside and out.
The message I received indicated that the place is still available. She just wanted me to answer a few questions about myself, for fear of renting to another bad tenant. She said she’s working for a US-based shipping company, spending much of her time in Philadelphia. She also said a number of other things. But her English wasn’t clear enough for me to get everything. But I took the Philadelphia connection as a good sign.
I responded with my answers. And she wrote back within the hour. I had given her the impression that I would be a good tenant. Her lawyer (in the UK) also agreed that my application looked good. So they were ready to give me the keys to the apartment. Wait, what?
The deposit will be 600 euros. They want me to send this to the lawyer in order to receive the keys and the papers for the apartment. Nope, nope, nope. That’s shady. I told her I would need to see more information, her lease or proof of ownership, the lease she would want me to sign, proof of her id, her lawyer’s details, a blood sample, and her mother’s cell phone number. No way I’m sending any euros to some strangers from craigslist without some assurances in place.
She immediately came back with a copy of the lease I would sign (with my name already typed in), and scans of her passport (she’s Swedish) and her attorney’s passport (he’s British). Okay, that’s impressive. And with this proof of id, she indicated that as soon as I send the money for the deposit via Western Union, her lawyer would send everything to me. But even though I have scans of passports, how do I know these are real people? These could be fake passports. I’m still not comfortable. And Western Union?
I demanded to see proof that she has a right to rent this apartment. Her lease? The owner’s information? Something. And I refused to send the money via Western Union. It’s just like sending cash. No way. I offered to send a certified check once I was comfortable with the situation. At this point, I was confident that it was a scam. She was clearly trying to trick me and would have had me show up with all of my stuff, holding a mailbox key, trying to open an old couple’s front door. Since I was onto her scam, and coming back so intelligently and sharper than any of her previous victims, I didn’t expect her to respond.
A few hours later, she responded with a kind, though slightly more agitated tone. This time she explained that she owned the apartment with her husband. After his death, it became all hers. She attached the scan of a “Proof of Ownership” certificate, including the full address and official-looking signatures. So now not only do I have two passports and a certificate, I have a sad story about a young woman’s dead husband. But how do I know this is a real certificate? And the husband could be the part of the story that gets someone like me (with a soft spot for dead people) to get up and go to Western Union. Am I falling into her trap?
I haven’t responded to this last message. I’m kind of out of rebuttals. I can’t think of anything else she could provide that would make me feel better. All the while, I’m wondering if I’m blowing my shot at living in a cute apartment, by myself, in a great location, with an affordable rent. Am I going to regret being so paranoid? Or will I end up 600 euros poorer, hating myself for not trusting my inner skeptic?
I’m sending a message to the University to get some advice. I’m also open to feedback from any of you on this. I’m at a frustrating loss on whether or not to proceed.