“Scammers must have seen my 'For Rent' sign, took the address, and posted it on Craigslist for a ridiculously low rent.”
As North Park property values increase to an all-time high, so have scams on renters.
“My husband and I had already rented this [North Park] unit in May,” Kersu Dalal said on November 15, “and people kept showing up after we had moved in. They said they had seen the Craigslist ad by 'Caroline' and wanted to check out the unit.
“Caroline, the scammer, offered the house at an insanely low price to drum up interest and was hoping to take a deposit and run a fake credit check, like others had reported. I warned them that this was a scam and told my landlord about it; he contacted Craigslist and had the ad flagged and removed.”
Dalal, an urban planner by trade, posted a sign on their gate to let prospective renters know that the place was already rented out.
Lucy lives by Dalal at the west end of the neighborhood by Pershing Drive.
“Scammers must have seen my 'For Rent' sign, took the address, and posted it on Craigslist for a ridiculously low rent,” Lucy said. “When people called the number the scammers provided, they took the people’s private information for a credit check, charged them $50, and said they would meet them at the property.”
As at Dalai’s rental, the scammers never showed up; only the prospective renters. “I’m sure that mine is not the only property they have targeted,” Lucy said. “I feel so sorry for the people who were duped. They not only lost their $50 but are vulnerable for credit fraud — I have reported this information to the police.”
On a quick San Diego rental search on Craigslist, I found suspicious ads at about the $500 price range. One ad was a “charming” two bedroom and one bath 914 sq./ft. rental for $593 in the Mountain View area (about five miles south of North Park) by the I-5 and I-15 freeways. It stated: “bad credit or poor credit — no problem” coupled with a “917” area code phone number (New York). As of print time, the ad, including others with the same contact information have been removed.
“These days, it seems every time I see a unit for rent on Craigslist, and inquire: it’s a scam,” said Fern who lives closer to University and Park. “Last time I filled out an application at a legit property management place, they happily collected $40 and told me the next day that I didn’t qualify even though my credit score is 700+ — maybe they scammed me or maybe they had other reasons for denying me.”
Becki is an apartment manager from central North Park between University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard.
“My pictures from previous ads were listed on Craigslist and were used to rent another apartment at an unusually low price,” she said. “You were then redirected to another website that asked you for a lot of personal information which I’m guessing for identity theft based on the nature of the questions. I went to the website and filled out fake information and sent them a message several times telling them I was reporting them and they did not have permission to use my pictures and to remove them immediately. I also reported the ads to Craigslist and did an online report for internet fraud.”
On August 3, San Diego Downtown News published a story by District Attorney Summer Stephan that was headlined “Avoid the rental scam on Craigslist.” She provided a checklist for the renters and property owners/managers: “When looking for a home or apartment to rent: beware of ads where the rent is significantly below market; always verify the physical address of the home by visiting the location; make sure the person advertising the home has keys and can show you the inside of the unit; Google the address and run the address on local MLS (multiple listing service) to check for foreclosure sales, lien sales, etc. [and] if a house is in foreclosure, do not rent it; do not wire money or pay deposits until you have seen the home, and get a written receipt for deposits; get a written lease with clear terms.
Craigslist warns their visitors by adding: “Avoid scams, deal locally! DO NOT wire funds (e.g. Western Union), or buy/rent sight unseen” at the bottom of certain rental ads.
As of late, Becki only uses Craigslist to survey prices and she still spots “too good to be true” rentals on the site. “I have not had this problem on the Zillow or Apartments.com networks and I’ve been using them for about two years.
On a North Park search via Zillow, the rentals range from $1195-$3995; on Apartments.com: $1195-$4195; on Craigslist: $189 per week to $10,000 a month.