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Craigslist rental ads attracting the crooks


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's it like to be the victim of three attempted robberies in one day?

It all started when my wife and I decided to advertise our Manoa apartment on the popular Craigslist, where the price is “;free”; and you can even include photos.

The next day, we were excited to receive three e-mail responses.

The first was from a “;Professor Tom Cole”; of the University of Milan in Italy. As he put it: “;Family-oriented, no pets, no smoke and no drugs.”;

He told me he wanted to do research, entitled “;Crime and Delinquency and Female Criminology,”; in which he would “;contrast crime in the United States with the rest of the world.”;

A dream tenant come true!

The good professor had a list of eight simple questions and ended with a nice “;God Bless Your Home.”;

Religious, too!

The next e-mail came from, oddly enough, another professor: “;Professor Alex Marc”; from the U.K.

Strangely, his questions were exactly the same as Professor Cole had posed, and in the same order.

Also weird, his e-mail address was from Japan. But he sounded like a good prospect.

The third e-mail was from another professional: “;Mr. Alfred Edwards”; from Edinburgh, Scotland, who allegedly worked for the United Nations.

Like the other two gentlemen, he appeared to be ideal: no smoking, no pets and, better yet, he was so enamored by our unit (sight unseen) that he was willing to pay for a full year's rent in advance.

Three perfect tenants, right?

Wrong. Three perfect crooks.

Fortunately, I had had some experience with Craigslist from the last time I rented out the apartment. We had received an inquiry from an alleged British professor, John Smith or something, who, again, didn't smoke, drink, do drugs or keep pets. We were tempted to go with him, and then we read about THE SCAM.

It goes like this: A person who says that he is in a respected position, from an honest-sounding country, like the U.K. (not Nigeria), presents himself as the ideal tenant.

He sends a deposit, which for some reason is way over what you're asking.

He will then insist that you wire the difference back immediately which, if you are terribly foolish, you will do. If you don't (and he has your phone number), he will call you night-and-day until you do.

Meanwhile, his deposit (which is in the form of a cashier's check or some other vehicle that looks authentic), will take some weeks to clear your bank.

You will find it worthless.

He has your money and you will never hear from him again.

So, what should I do now? I'm going to write to my three gentlemen and tell them that, sadly, the apartment has been taken. But I know of two other apartments that they might be interested in, and then send them each other's names for the e-mail contacts.

Let them scam each other, I say.

Robbery: It used to be a relatively rare event that happened to someone else. Now, thanks to Craigslist and the Internet, it's happening to us all.

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C. Richard Fassler, who lives in Manoa, is an occasional contributor to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.