The affordable housing scam

Screenshot by Ilona Kinnear
Caption: The alleged scammer’s text messages (number withheld)

By Ilona Kinnear

I had nearly given up on finding an apartment.
I’d searched high and low on many apartment finder apps and I couldn’t find a place that met my standards: close to campus, utilities included in rent, pets allowed, washer/ dryer, and an affordable price.
Possible places I had found either had no availability or required an income 2.5 times the price of rent so they know you can afford it.
So I was relieved when I saw an ad on hotpads that there was a house for only $700 a month and it met all my requirements!
I emailed the person hoping he would contact me. To my surprise, it only took about an hour to hear back from him. To me, this was a godsend, like I was the chosen one.
He sent me an email describing his offer, “GOOD MORNING! (Yes it was in caps)…
My name is Mr JAMES Joseph, (Yes, James was capitalized)… (my wife) works for… [UNICEF], and now she has been transfer to NEW YORK CITY (Again with the caps!).”
Okay, this looks like spam… But my naivety got the better of me and I read on as he described his predicament with real estate agents.
At the bottom of the email, he had a ‘form’ for me to fill out, it included name, present address, phone number, profession, name of pets, and also, “YOU HAVE TO ATTACH YOUR PICS AND THOSE THAT WILL BE MOVING IN WITH YOU SO WE CAN KNOW WHO WILL ARE RENTING TO”.
I sent him the information he requested. After that I told my family the good news. I was met with a lot of skepticism.
After seeing the email, my dad said it looked like scam and I shouldn’t send money until I made sure it was credible.
I took to the internet, while texting JAMES Joseph, “My dad took a look at your email and thought it looked like a scam.”
He replied, “am not using my house to scam people.”
Then my friend sent me a craigslist posting that was titled “$700 Houses for Rent SCAMS”.
This looked bad, though there was still a part of me denying that it was true. But as I read on, it sounded the exact same. I texted the guy a picture of the craigslist post and his reply was, “Not my house.”
This was seriously fishy. I looked up the house on the internet and found other sites with a different price. It made sense, considering he told me he tried and failed with agents before. Maybe they just forgot to take these listings down.
I finally found a site that would look up information about the owners of the house for me and in the end, the result didn’t surprise me.
I asked the guy, “So how would you handle the rental contract?”
He replied, “I will ship out the house keys and the documents after you pay for the security deposit.”
This was it. It was time to lay the smack down on this phony. I texted him, “Well, I don’t think that you, James Joseph, are the real owner,” I said. “And I checked with realty records and it says that the property belongs to (someone else).”
The only response a pathetic scammer like him could say was,“Please I am the owner of the house”. That was the final straw and I officially ended my hopes of having such a cheap home.
You know how the saying goes, “If it is too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.” A word of advice to home seekers like me: do your research before you send money. Else, you won’t see it again.