Too good to be true II

We recently highlighted a wickedly creative scam attempt in the Twin Cities rental housing market.

It didn’t take long for folks to start sharing similar stories.


Happily, no one has told us they were taken. But we’re still vexed over these scams and what to do about them. Read on and if you have some answers beyond “buyer beware,” please drop us a line.

This particular scam involves Craigslist, a suspect leasing agent and a housing deal too good to be true.

“I ran into this exact same situation just two days ago,” said Adam Hayes. “My initial questions were not answered in my email, and the ‘leasing agent’ wanted to run a credit check before I would get to see the place.”

Hayes, an English teacher, has been looking to rent a house in Minneapolis. He told us he’d seen a Craigslist ad for what appeared to be the perfect find: a two-bedroom house with hardwood floors and a fenced-in backyard for $500 a month.

He emailed a brief inquiry to the “agent” and got an extended response that made it sound even better: water, trash and lawn care all paid for by the leasing company.

He was directed to a link called to complete a “free credit report… as soon as you can.” (The link is broken but beware anyway.)

The home’s address wasn’t listed. The “agent” wrote that he had to stop publishing the exact address for fear of vandals but he would happily send it once Hayes replied. The “agent” even said he’d lived in the house for two years and called it “very cozy.”

Hayes told us he saw several red flags.

First off, the respondent failed to answer my question, instead giving me a mountain of unbidden information. Second, his conditions are totally foreign to me, especially as I have rented in the Twin Cities for four years, seven different apartments.

Third, the link he gave me – which no longer works – redirected my browser three times before bringing me to a legitimate-looking credit report website.

I am not an IT sort of person – I am an English teacher – but I do know that websites can be made to look authentic in phishing scams, and this is usually achieved via multiple redirections of the browser.

Given my suspicion, I had no intention of filling out this credit report.

After seeing our post, he emailed the “agent” seeking more information, including the name of the leasing company.

Hayes says he hasn’t heard back. “The link included on their only reply no longer works and the ad has been removed from Craigslist. This all happened over the span of a couple days.”

Aaron Dickinson, a Realtor who writes a detailed blog about the Twin Cities market, says he’s heard similar stories from other agents about this kind of scam attempt and that it’s been going on for at least a year.

“Just like anything else on Craigslist,” said Dickinson, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, “if you can’t meet the person face to face then you might not want to do business with them.”

One of the problems here is that it’s not clear who to complain to (beyond Craigslist) or what crime is being committed.

“Because the scammer used a free email service, what I assume to be a fake name, and Craigslist, I assume there is nothing to be done legally speaking as the scammer is seemingly untraceable. Additionally, as far as I know, no crime technically happened as I did not take the bait.”

Says Dickinson: “The absolute best thing would be for the consumer to notify the owner/responsible party for the property, though that can be difficult in many cases with vacant homes.”

The best we could find at this point was information from the Minnesota attorney general’s office on phishing scams.

If anyone else has seen this kind of scam attempt — or if you can share a thought about how to stop it — please let us know.

  • JoshC

    Thanks for you article. Just found the exact same thing in Grand Rapids Michigan. Word for word what you are saying.

  • james

    I saw exactly the same thing, too, in Portland, Oregon.

  • Nery C

    THANKS!!!!!! for the info I have also found the same exact ad on craigslist for a “rental” in Ventura County……