2020 Craigslist Rental Scams

[Published 5/5/20; Updated 5/17/20] On May 15 a woman sent us a link to a Penthouse Condo for rent that was posted on Craigslist.  She asked…. Did we think this was legitimate?  It wasn’t!  But it was also one of the best rental scams we have seen…

Here are the scammer signs we saw in this listing…

  1. We find the detailed information listed as very odd.  For example, why list the type of Air conditioning as “Carrier Infiniti Series HVAC”. Most people will just say “air conditioning” or something simple.  It is an odd laundry list of things but says nothing about the neighborhood yet they say “Generous Shower w/ Curb-less Entry, Frameless Glass Enclosed Shower”. What the heck is curb-less entry anyway?
  2. Most importantly, is the email address the “seller” has listed.  In two locations he has specifically made an effort to post a personal email address in a way that goes against the Craigslist policy.  Craigslist provides an anonymous email service to those who list and visitors must use the “Reply” button in the upper left corner to do so. (A phone number is permissible to be listed.) But rather than use the contact link that Craigslist provides, and can monitor, he separates his email address with spaces to get past the Craigslist filters: listed by: john.holmesrentals @ outlook . com
  3. The email address written by the person listing the property suggests he represents “John Holmes Rentals.”  We Googled “John Holmes Rentals” and found a well-known realtor in the DC area with that name.  So WHY is this man not using his business email address with a realty firm?  Instead he has created a generic email at Gmail!  This makes this listing EXTREMELY SUSPICIOUS!

We sprang into action and created a fictitious email account for a woman we named “Mary” and contacted Mr. “John Holmes” to inquire about his property.  During this email exchange we tricked this scammer to reveal his location in the world.  We weren’t the least bit surprised by what we discovered!  Here is our email exchange with Mr. “John Holmes” and all the details of his scam….

To: john.holmesrentals@outlook.com
Mr Holmes,
I am very interested in the Penthouse you have listed on Craigslist.
Is it still available and if so, can I arrange to see it?
Mary Candides
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Hello Mary,
I need you to send me the link to the rentals so I can follow up with the corresponding details.
Thank you,
John

TDS NOTE: This is troubling because it suggests that “John” has multiple scam listings! We used the Google “site” command to search Craigslist.org for his email address and found another listing in Washington, DC as 1201 Q Street with his email address.  (Into Google search field we typed: “site:craigslist.org john.holmesrentals” (without quotes) Here is the other scam listing posted by Mr. Holmes (click to enlarge):

John,
Thanks for your quick reply. I am referring to this post….
https://washingtondc.craigslist.org/doc/apa/d/washington-2139-st-penthouse-condo/7118306520.html
Mary
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Hi Mary,
Thanks for your interest in renting the property. Lease term is flexible, could be as short as 2 months or as long as one year with option to renew at the end of the one year term.
You’d get the very best of service, prompt response to issues, excellent customer service and a comfortable stay throughout your term. And most importantly, fast and easy leasing process with little or no hassle.

Though the unit originally comes fully furnished, however it can be rented either as furnished, semi furnished or unfurnished depending on tenants preference. Do note that the rent price remains unchanged irrespective of your choice. Pet friendly unit.

Details of the unit:
1. Monthly rent: 4000 (utilities like water, heat, AC, WiFi, electricity, parking and gas are included)
2. Security Deposit: $4000
3. Area (sq.Ft): 1850
4. No of Bedroom: 3
5. No of Bath: 2.5
6. Apartment: 2139 N St Nw #4 WASHINGTON, DC 20037

When exactly do you intend to move in and for how long are you looking to lease the unit?
Kindest Regards,
John.
========================
Hi John,
We are interested in at least a year lease. It is for my fiance and me.
We would like to move in on June 1 if possible. Is it?
Could we see the apartment this weekend? Saturday or Sunday work for us.
Mary
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Hello Mary,
The unit is currently still being occupied at this time, however it would be vacated by 05/24. We have been receiving quiet a huge number of emails from prospective tenants but the landlord has not been very comfortable with with what we have so far. I’m a bit selective (NOT discriminating) in accepting a suitable responsible tenant.

Therefore we have set up an online questionnaire of basic questions a landlord would ask anyone interested in renting his/her property and also as a form of screening applicants. There are no credit cards or payment required.

Fill out the rental application form on the link below;
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScp1cqAZ6jyzUv4FyPukv0yDt_iwYWOfJeLv3M-8WmT9HApPA/viewform

TDS Note: Legitimate realtors will never use a generic Google form for an application!  They will use a written form or a form on their legitimate realty website.  If the scammer’s Google form disappears or you would prefer not to click it, here is what it looked like…. Page 1 and 2:

I just filled out the form John.
We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see the property soon.  Can we see it on May 24th?

Mary
========================
Hello Mary,
After a careful review of all the application received so far, we are please to inform you that your application has been accepted tenancy and I trust you will take good care of the unit during your stay.

We are still in contract with the current resident of the unit until May 24 like I said before. So the unit will be available for viewing from that date the resident will be moving out. If this works for you, you would need to secure the apartment pending your move in so you don’t lose it to another renter. 
To secure the apartment, you will be required to fill out the apartment lease booking form which I will be sending over to you on-line. You would also be required to put down the down payment that best suits your payment plan. By doing this, the unit will be taken off the market and reserved in your name until your move in date.
Note that you are entitled to a full refund of all money paid should you find the unit not in the same state as seen in the pictures or for any other reason whatsoever after your viewing of the unit interior. This is clearly stated in the lease form and it is binding according to the state laws. 
So do get back to me so we get started with the reservation details and paperwork.
Kind Regards,

John

 
P.S: Note that two other renters were also shortlisted along with you as good fit for possible tenancy. I am giving you a head start ahead of the others to secure your spot because I trust you will take good care of the unit during your stay.
TDS NOTE: Notice that Mary is being pressured to make a down payment without even having a phone conversation or seeing the apartment!
========================

John,
That’s wonderful!  Thank you!  What do we need to do now to secure it?
Mary

========================
Hello Mary,
Do find attached in this email the apartment booking form required to place your reservation. You are to fill it with your information and return a scanned copy of the filled form. 
The details required to send in the down payment are contained in the forms. After making the payment, you are to send in a copy of the bank slip along with the filled forms for documentation purpose and easy integration into the apartment tenant database. 
Upon receipt of the forms and payment, arrangements will immediately be made to prepare the receipt and tenancy ID and other documents as confirmation of your booking and the unit will be held in your name and taken off the market pending your arrival for moving in. 
Remember you are entitled to a full refund of your full down payment should you find the unit not in the condition you had hoped for. This is clearly stated in the lease document.
I look forward to your email of the filled forms and payment so we can confirm your reservation and also to a pleasant  business relationship with you during your entire stay in the apartment.
Regards,
John
Apartment Lease Booking Form tells Mary that she must wire her money into an account at Chase Bank:  Apartment Lease Booking Form (pdf)
========================

John,
I’ve filled out the application but when I try to make a deposit I get an error saying that this Chase Account has been closed for security reasons.  This is what I see: [LINK REDACTED]
I’m sorry, is there another account I should use?

Mary

Mr. “John Holmes” of Washington, DC clicked the link we sent him and revealed that he is a Nigerian scammer from Asaba, Nigeria:

UPDATE to this scam 5/18/20: We didn’t respond to “Mr. Holmes” once we learned that he was from Nigeria.  However, 2 days later he sent us another email to tell us that we could send our deposit to his Bank of America account!  We have notified the FBI, Chase Bank and Bank of America of all these details.

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On May 4 we were contacted by a woman who had just avoided a scam listed as a house rental on Craigslist.  The home for rent was listed as 5315 Hoboken Rd., Madison, WI 53713 by someone who identified himsel as “Mr. Ron Steve and Family, Project Manager for Garmong Construction.”  This is, of course, all a lie.  Mr. Ron Steve used the phone number 413-312-1758.

     

We had no problem locating that property on Zillow.com.  It was listed for rent at $1650, much higher than what Mr. Ron Steve had been asking ($850).  This is common for rental scams!  They lure people to them by lower than market value rents. (Click images to enlarge.)

The “Rent Questionnaire” was also suspicious because it asked questions that shouldn’t be asked or in a way that was very suspicious.  Questions from Mr. Ron Steve included….

1. Date of Birth
2. Reasons for Leaving
3. Are you married
4. Do you have a car
5. How soon can you have the deposit and rent payment sent to me
6. How soon do you want to receive the keys
7. Your Family Pictures [TDS NOTE: As in “please attach family pictures.” Seriously??]

Mr. Ron Steve claimed to work for Garmong Construction.  However, what he did was stole the photo of a man named Ron H. from the Garmong Construction website that appears when you mouse-over the formal picture of Ron dressed in a suit.   (We are excluding that photo from this story since the real Ron is easily identified.)

After sending in the “Rent Questionnaire” with their answers, the woman was immediately informed that the home was hers to rent!  All she had to do was wire money to the scammer!

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THESE SCAMS:
1. In each of these apartment scams, the listed price is well below the local market value.  No doubt, this is meant to be the incentive to attract potential victims!
2. The person who owns the apartment is always in some distant state and unable to show it personally. This sham is now legitimized during the COVID pandemic and actually seems reasonable but NO REAL PERSON WILL EMAIL YOU THE KEY TO THEIR PROPERTY after exchanging a few emails!
3. The listing often (but not always) has limited photos of the apartment, especially the interior.
4. Communication with the “owner” is always via email or text, and he or she is not available by phone, and especially not via video chat!
5. The English in these exchanges is often poor and awkward indicating that it is not the person’s first language.