There are so many scams that target users on Craigslist that one has to have a very healthy sense of skepticism when using the site. This is no fault of Craigslist and they certainly try their best to warn users and suggest precautions. But the site attracts scumbags like flies to honey. We have posted a variety of links at the bottom of this article about various Craigslist scams but want to bring attention to one particular scam that someone brought to our attention. [ARTICLE UPDATED BELOW February 20 and 7, 2016]
Let’s start with our heroine, a mom named Linda from California. Just a few days ago Linda contacted us to say “My son has been looking for an inexpensive apt for his wife and child and I was afraid he would be scammed. That led me looking for apt scams in the area and when I found one I thought was suspicious I contacted you. I'm kind of on a mission now.” We’re happy to hear that this young couple has Linda on their side. Check out the Craigslist apartment ad that Linda forwarded to us. Does anything strike you as suspicious?
This advertisement on Craigslist appeared like so many others. However, it seems odd that no address was listed. So Linda clicked on Reply and inquired. Here is the response she received…
Several things about this email from Emily Mills bothered Linda. That’s when she contacted The Daily Scam to see what we thought. How many warning flags can you spot? We immediately spotted three, from minor to significant!
1. “We’ll also waive your security deposit if we see that your rating is above 600+.” This is a simple but effective incentive to motivate a “mark.” Could it also be true? Yes, but it isn’t the norm by far.
2. Mousing-over the link in the sentence “Simply get your report by CLICKING HERE” reveals that it points to a very unusual website called linkscoming.info. Does this even sound like a credit reporting site to you? A Google search for it doesn’t show any website and that is another red flag. It did however bring up this link from ScamWarners.com that identifies an amazingly similar apartment scam:
We used a variety of online malware tools to investigate the credit report link but found no malware lying in wait for us. But we still would not click that link. We looked up linkscoming.info in a WHOIS tool and discovered that the domain was registered through a proxy service from Panama on August 24 (Proxy services are used to hide the real owner’s name and contact information.) Also, according to the WHOIS tool, the name of the website is Billy Bob’s Tractor Emporium. How’s that for a credit reporting service? Check out the WHOIS report yourself.
3. So what was the most significant evidence that this apartment listing was a scam? Look at Emily Mill’s email address… firstname.lastname@example.org The “dot-xyz” portion is called a Global Top Level Domain (gTLD). The Internet Consortium of Names and Numbers (ICANN) signed a contract at the end of 2013 to allow this gTLD to be used. Domains ending with dot-xyz (.xyz) began to appear on the Internet in June, 2014. We at The Daily Scam have seen hundreds of domain names ending with dot-xyz and almost every single one of them has been a scam! Emily’s email address sent the needle off our suspicious-internet-content meter! Our next step was to use a WHOIS tool again to look up the domain letustalk.xyz. Once again we learned that ownership of this domain was hidden by the proxy service WhoisGuard in Panama. But we also learned that the domain was registered on September 28, just a few days before the apartment was listed by “Emily Mills.”
Now that we were reasonably certain this was a scam our first thought was to see if this scammer was running similar scams across Craigslist. Google is a very powerful search tool if you know how to use it. It can be used to search specific websites for specific phrases. We thought this was a pretty unique phrase from Emily Mills… “one bath house in the heart of the area!” Look what our search turned up…
Google found 23 instances of that exact phrase used on Craigslist starting on August 24 and provided us with links to ten of them. Does this date sound familiar? It was the date that someone registered the domain linkscoming.info. Though a few of the apartment listings had already been removed, we were able to see several. Below are two. Notice any similarities?
Our next step was to bait the scammer so we created an email address and contacted someone named Taylor who was listing one of the apartments in another state. Taylor@optimates.xyz responded a couple of days later. The pattern is obvious! And, as expected, the domain optimates.xyz was registered on September 26 using the same Panamanian proxy service.
And the "CLICKING HERE" link in Taylor's email pointed to the same suspicious domain linkscoming.info.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 20, 2016:
Another TDS reader contacted us this week to say that she found an apartment listed on Craigslist by a confusing email address listed as "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org> and became very suspicious. The email is very similar to others we have posted and tell the person interested in the apartment that "If you would like to set up an appointment, go to the link below and request a copy of your credit report. We use this site since it's it gives you 3 scores." The link leads to an odd website called ehop.info. Check out the email sent to us by the TDS reader....
We checked with ScamAdvisor.com to look up this strange domain ehop.info and it reported the domain as VERY suspicious.... The domain lists a website (that cannot be found) with a title of "Billy Bob's Tractor Emporium" which we've seen used by criminals in the past! Check out the ScamAdvisor.com report.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 7, 2016:
A TDS Reader contacted us today and sent us this text screenshot (on right). It seems she was targeted with the same Craigslist apartment scam. Notice that the next is sent by Carla from RextonTours.xyz. (These scammers like using the "xyz' top level domain.) Google cannot find any website for this domain and a WHOIS lookup shows us that the domain was registered just 9 days ago, close to midnight, using the proxy protection service called WhoIs Guard from Panama.
We cannot be certain exactly what the scammer’s goal was while carrying out this scam unless we continued down this rabbit hole. But there was no longer the need for that. This is a scam, plain and simple. Filling out a fictitious credit report would certainly have given the scammer the keys to our kingdom… name, address, mother’s maiden name, social security number, and perhaps bank account information. The loss of that information alone would have been devastating. Or perhaps the scammer’s next step would have been to coax a check in the mail to him. We’ll never know. But one thing is clear, Craigslist users have to keep a healthy dose of skepticism and take to heart the Russian proverb Ronald Reagan used in discussing arms negotiations. "Doveryai no proveryai." Trust But Verify!
Links About Apartment Scams Targeting Craigslist Users:
Craigslist Scams I Encountered When Looking for a Rental
How I Fell for an Awful Craigslist Rental Scam and What I Should Have Done Differently
5 Warning Signs That A Craigslist Rental Listing Is Probably A Scam
6 Ways to Avoid Apartment Scams on Craigslist
How to Avoid Apartment and House Rental Scams on Craigslist
Vancouver Grandmother Tackles Online Rental Scammers to Help Students
We are thrilled to hear that other people are finding our article and avoiding this scam! Check out this email from Ryan...
"I’m so glad I found your website! I moused over the “CLICKING HERE” and saw “linksconnected” and Googled that along with “scam” and came across your post. See the email below — LOOK FAMILIAR? HAHA… Man, when something seems too good to be true, it probably (definitely!) is!
Feel free to post this on your site, so long as you redact my name and email address.
Keep up the good work!!
Begin forwarded message:
Date: October 29, 2015 at 7:25:09 PM PDT
To: EMAIL REMOVED AT SENDER'S REQUEST
Subject: RE: Granite Countertops, Gas Appliances,Spacious Apartment Home
Thank you for your interest in the property listed for rent. You were the first to email from the advertising. We just finished all new renovations and are now prepared to rent with flexible terms. We will work together with you on move in date, lease security deposit and length.
I understand you need the precise address of the property but we do want not to disclose the address before you're qualified. We have had a string of break-ins, squatters and thefts at our other properties. We want to avoid that with this property because of the renovations that have cost a lot of money. You are going to be the first to move in with the renovations.
All utilities are priced into the lease along with garage parking spaces. The appliances in the kitchen as well as laundry room were just installed. You have the option to pick your paint color and flooring before your move in
If you would like to set up an appointment, go to the link below and request a copy of your credit report. We use this site since it's it gives you 3 scores. Just fill out the form and indicate that you want the report. We are not concerned with any negative report items, it's more of a formality to ensure you have rental history. You can get your report by CLICKING HERE [Link was the same scam site as noted above]
Remember, print out the report and bring it to the tour.. We'll also waive your security deposit if we see that your rating is above 620+.
Let me know when you have an updated version of your credit report. Then I'll schedule you for a walk through.
See you soon,
> From: EMAIL REMOVED AT SENDER'S REQUEST
> Subject: Granite Countertops, Gas Appliances,Spacious Apartment Home
> Date: Thu, 29 Oct 2015 14:40:19 -0700
> To: email@example.com
> Hi! I wanted to get some information on the place in Los Alamitos.
> I"m slightly confused by the details in the listing — this is a 2 bedroom apartment, on the top floor of an apartment building? Or the top floor of a house? It looks great in the pictures. I just wanted to make sure I"m understanding it correctly.
> My name is R---. Please hit me back at your earliest convenience. Thank you!