6:00 AM EDT, April 9, 2012
Maybe it was desperation or nervous energy that led me to Craigslist. My husband, still in South Carolina, was 15 days away from starting his job in Beltsville and I had to find a place in a safe neighborhood for $1,000 a month that accepted our pets – and we had to move all of our belongings and be settled enough to both go to work after a marathon weekend of packing, moving and unpacking.
My real estate agent was searching for places that met our criteria, but I also put out a few feelers on Craigslist. I’m skeptical of the free site, but a friend had a lot of luck finding a rowhouse inWashington, D.C., with some fellow young, single professionals, and I decided to give it a go.
I contacted several people about their posts, including email@example.com, who had posted some pictures of a three bedroom, two bathroom single family home supposedly on Wendley Road for $700 a month.
I pounded out a quick email and included my phone number. About two days later, I got an unsigned email back from that account. I’ll share some of the message: “(I) am the owner of the home and i bid for a portion of petroleum land a while back in West Africa and fortunately I just won the bidding so I had to move quickly down to Africa to have my company set up because I still have to rebid for it in the next 4 to 5 years.
“I came over here with my wife and two kids and before we got here i thought of selling the home but had to change my mind because of my wife, she preferred we had it up on the rental market I had to look for an agent, after getting one, we got a deal but later we found out that he was renting it out for a higher price than what we agreed on and i don't want an occupant that will be paying a lot and not have time for the home because of the price of the home.
“If you notice, you will discovered that the price we are offering is far below standard price, this is enough for you to know that we are not after the rental fee so I contacted the Agent back and requested for my keys and documents the maintenance of the home is far more important to me.”
So, it’s pretty clear this is a scam. The author of the email goes on write to that after I fill out an application form and send $1,200 for a deposit and first month’s rent that the owner will mail me the keys. Of course, because the owner is in West Africa presumably drilling for petroleum, I would not be able to see the place until I sent the cash.
I emailed the “owner” to ask some follow-up questions for the purpose of learning more about how the hoax works. I didn’t get a reply, but a man claiming to be the owner called me from an international number and tried to assure me that if I didn’t like the house, I would get my money back. I confronted him and told him I was a newspaper reporter, and he hung up on me.
After that I ditched cyber space in favor of a return to shoe-leather house hunting with my agent. He took me to two places in Hampden, one of which I said I wanted on the spot.
The house is terrific – two bedrooms with new carpeting, a remodeled bathroom, a good sized living room and dining room and a full basement with a second bathroom and finished office, a garage and small backyard. The kitchen is tiny and outdated, but I don’t cook anyway.
Coldwell Banker, which was handling the application for the homeowner, had an intense screening process that included a credit check on myself and my husband, copies of our driver’s licenses and salary data from our jobs. My application was in running with someone else’s, and because it was the best place I had seen in my price range and we were up against a deadline, I offered an extra $25 a month.
As I write this, we’ve been in our place for four days. And despite a few hiccups moving in (our box spring wouldn’t fit upstairs), things went smoothly. We didn’t make it within walking distance of the stadiums or the Inner Harbor, but there is a city bus stop near our front door and my first piece of mail at our new place was a pair of Orioles tickets I had ordered for the opening series.
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