- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2018

Like many young people who come to the District for an internship, Emily Denny searched Craigslist for a cheap place to rent.

“I saw a posting for a place in Scott Circle that was in my price range and was convenient to the Silver Line so I reached out, and got a response,” Ms. Denny, 23, wrote to The Washington Times in a social media message.

Next thing she knew, the landlord was asking her to wire transfer $2,000 to secure the room. It sounded great, because she was studying at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and had no way to visit the apartment before driving to the District for her internship.

She sent the money, and the landlord confirmed he received it.

“The day before I left my parent’s house for [the District] this person still hadn’t given me any move-in details,” she said. “So I called the building and they said they didn’t allow sublets and no one by that person’s name had ever lived there.”

Ms. Denny had fallen victim to what is a familiar scam to many in the District. A grifter can steal real housing listings to pose as a landlord and offer a great deal at below-market value — but only if you transfer money immediately.

“We’ve had victims contact us because they’ve shown up at somebody’s place and the people say, ‘This is my private place, I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” said Thomas Franklin, operations manager at the D.C. Landlord Association, a nonprofit that assists small property owners.

Now is the time of the year when this scam really takes off, said Koki Adasi, a real estate agent with Compass Real Estate and president elect of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR).

“When you think about it, when you have people like interns coming into town for a few months tops they want affordable accommodation so they’re going to search for the lowest hanging fruit,” Mr. Adasi said.

There is no official tally of how many house hunters get scammed each year in the U.S., but the FBI estimated in 2016 that scammers cost renters $47.8 million.

Law enforcement and industry associations have tips for dodging scammers if you’re house hunting in the greater D.C. area:

Never give money to someone before meeting the landlord in person at the property.

Research the neighborhood’s average rent, and be suspicious of any listing far lower than that.

Run a “License Search” on any real estate agents via the District’s free database.

Be wary of misspellings, odd formatting or broken links in correspondence.

If you see a scam, report it to the website (like Craigslist or Roomster) and ask for it be removed. Victims of scams are encouraged to contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Ms. Denny said she is “all very lucky.” She found housing with a family member in town, and recovered some of the $2,000 after her mother helped her report the incident to the FBI. The bureau caught the scammer after he had ripped off another dozen people.

Craigslist and Roomster did not respond to requests for comment on plans to protect their users from housing crooks.

Mr. Adasi said he hears stories like Ms. Denny’s every day, and has helped two people in the last month in the District and Maryland with housing scams.

“The price of rentals in the area is expensive, and so when you see a single family home for half the price, it seems like a great opportunity to jump on and people don’t use their common sense,” he said Thursday. Scammers to watch out for include tenants posing as landlords to illegally sublet part of a house and email hackers who pose as real estate agents asking for money.

“We as Realtors get phishing scams at least once a week,” said Tom Daley, president of GCAAR. He warns people to never respond to an unsolicited wire transfer request and pay attention to small errors in emails. “We will never send you an unsolicited wire transfer request.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide