Craigslist Crib Quest

How to avoid scams in your apartment rental search

In March of 2014, the Huffington Post published an article by a 20-something law student named Sara Gates. The title, “How I Fell for an Awful Craigslist Rental Scam and What I Should Have Done Differently,”pretty much says it all. We won’t go into detail about exactly what happened to the author, but we will tell you that we love the way she sums up Craigslist:

 Let me be clear: Craigslist is not to blame. I’ve heard several fairytale stories about how renters have found amazing roommates or lucky breaks on the site. I’m not saying it’s bad, as a whole. There are just a lot of people peddling steaming piles of shit.”

 We’d say that sums up the Internet in general, doesn’t it? And, come to think of it, even the world.

 In the article, Sara Gates beats herself up a bit about not using common sense, about being in a rush, about not taking note of red flags, and about allowing herself to be swept up by what she considered her great fortune (which of course, turned out to be a scam).

 But we want to talk about the fact that it didn’t have to happen through Craigslist or via the Internet or even in regard to her apartment search. People get swindled when looking for jobs, when looking for dates, when looking for religion. And often it happens when, like Sara Gates, they’re in some way desperate and looking for quick solutions.

 The truth is, looking for an apartment is like looking for job. Sometimes we are desperate and in need of quick solutions. And sometimes, we might have to settle for something less than permanent or less than ideal. But even then, it’s important to follow these two rules:

 1)  Never give your money, account access, or credit card information to anyone you don’t know and trust without verification from an independent source.

 2)  Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about money or investments. Always get independent advice.

 Yes, magical connections have happened on Craigslist, and trusting people have been rewarded with positive results, but magic also happens when you’re prepared, when you have time to do your due diligence, and when you’re not pressured by dire circumstances.

 We’re all for Craigslist. We do suggest doing a quick Internet search and reading up on some of the current scams so you know what to look out for and how to protect yourself, but no need to avoid the site altogether. We’ve used it (and we recommend it) for everything from selling old bookcases to apartment searching to hiring contractors.

 But it’s not our only source for anything.

 For apartment hunting, Craigslist should be just one of a handful of online go-tos. Hunters should also hit the streets, drive around, pop into favorite buildings, and mention their search to everyone they know. Sometimes the best luck will be by word-of-mouth, sometimes by a sign in a window, and sometimes by Craigslist or Hotpads or Trulia.

 The way we see it, the most successful apartment searches are the ones that cause the least anxiety. In our experience, the more options we provide for ourselves and the more time we have for the search, the less desperate we feel.

 And when that’s the case, we’re much better able to sniff out those “people peddling steaming piles of shit.”

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Elizabeth Salaam
Along with her work as Senior Contributing Writer for Girl's Guide, Elizabeth Salaam writes for the San Diego Reader. Her work has also been published in Elle Magazine. | Most inspired by: Contradictions. | Favorite room in my home: The Master suite. The windows have views for days! | Best design idea I may never do: Adorn my enclosed toilet room with library book wallpaper and a chandelier. | Will never: Bungee jump. | Have always been: Rebellious. | Dying to: Live in a Paris flat with herringbone wood floors.
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