Don’t Get Tricked, Bro: How to Recognize a Roommate Scam

When the supposed 25 year old Romanian master’s student pictured above contacted me about my ad on Craigslist, some red flags went up right away. Women looking for roommates on CL never, ever want to live with a man and in fact typically include an explicit “men need not apply” in their ad, for understandable reasons.

The second is that she ticks off a lot of boxes for generic internet man bait. Young, exotic, beautiful. Wow, what a coincidence! What a stroke of luck to have her apply, and her wealthy father is going to send a check ahead to cover the move-in expenses! What’s not to like?

Well I’m not an idiot for one thing. I also consulted with a friend who affirmed that the message below reeks of a classic roommate scam common on Craigslist and similar sites:

Hello. I’m Jessica Martha . I was born in Romania. I will be renting the room for a year for my masters degree.

I’m on a research currently in Agana, Guam . My dad will be paying for the room with check before my arrival. I am single, fun, loving, clean, loyal and respectful of others and respect others religion. I don’t have any pet. My father is from the States and my mother is from Romania. I’m 25yrs old. I graduated last year at University of Bucharest

Here is a remote area which calls are very hard to go through. I won’t be able to come over and check on the room before renting. Please tell me little about yourself… Let me know the total amount for the first month rent, i will be paying upfront so that you can be rest assured that am really interested in renting the room from you…

Please get back to me with the following details so that i can ensure you are ready to rent the room to me. I will sign all necessary papers/Lease at the point of my arrival because there is no printer and scanner close to me and i will also be giving compensation for giving me the room as i won’t have much time to search for other rooms.

Full Name:

Full address with apt#:

Cell & Home #:

Total amount for move in:

I’ll be waiting to read back from you with the information requested so that i can forward it to my father to issue out the check for the deposit and month rent upfront as soon as possible, with that you can hold on the place prior my arrival.Thanks for your co-operation.Jessica

A little bit of research revealed how these scams work. They have some reason prepared as to why they can’t meet you in person to check the property out first. They’re typically outside the US, claim they will rent the place sight unseen, pay in advance and take care of the rest on arrival.

Apparently what happens if you give them all the information they ask for (I didn’t) is that they sent you a cashier’s check or international money order for more than the agreed upon amount, which you then deposit. Your bank doesn’t stop you from doing this and the money does appear in your account for a little while.

Then they ask for the excess, sent accidentally, to be returned to them. After you do this, their check bounces, the money vanishes from your account, and they disappear with the money you sent. Similar, vaguely, to the 419 email scam in that it makes the amount you send them seem insignificant next to the huge amount they offer, or have sent you in the form of a bogus check.

But then, poof, that money vanishes along with the scammers, and whatever you were duped into wiring to their account. I’m glad I wasn’t born yesterday, and have a history documenting and diagramming scams like this. I’m also glad I got a second opinion on it. When in doubt, ask someone you trust.

It also never hurts to google scams related to whatever it is you’re doing, just to see what kind of games people are running. What all is out there, so you can compare your situation to those descriptions and see if any of it lines up. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is, and bears investigation.

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