Horny Men Have Almost Ruined Apartment Hunting
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Horny Men Have Almost Ruined Apartment Hunting

Rachel Bell
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The DM just said ‘Help’.

It was 1 AM and someone had messaged Flip on Instagram. I replied and they explained that they’d been scammed out of $4000 when looking for an apartment on Craigslist. They sent me screenshots of the payments they had sent to someone, supposedly for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent, only to be blocked by the ‘landlord’ once the money was sent.

When I moved into my own apartment for the first time, I encountered a lot of scammers. The fact that I was a 19-year-old woman didn’t help - people assumed I was extra vulnerable and naive. However, the number of people sending me phishing links and asking for money sight unseen was far outnumbered by the number of people who offered me ‘free’ rooms in exchange for ‘help around the house’ and other euphemisms for sexual favors.

I’m not here to shame anyone who arranges a non-traditional transaction to secure housing - whatever floats your boat. That’s not the point. The point is to make it clear how many people scour Craigslist housing posts with ulterior motives. At best, they’re horny or stupid. At worst, they’re seeking out young, vulnerable-seeming women in the hopes of taking advantage of them.

Meet Jassica

At noon, I posted a Craigslist listing in the ‘room/share wanted’ section. It was pretty innocuous, but read like something I may have written about myself when I was looking for my first apartment - bright-eyed and overly optimistic. I became Jassica, the 21-year-old woman from Kansas City who had moved to New York City to pursue her dreams. Yes, Jassica.

I decided to keep the post up for 24 hours and see what happened. I almost didn’t make it - at 2 in the morning I woke up to my phone vibrating. The Google Voice number I’d set up for the post was forwarding calls to my cell phone, and some unknown number had called 3 times in a row.

I was extremely relieved when 24 hours had passed and I could delete the post. I'd made the mistake of ordering delivery food a few hours after it went live, and answered 2 calls from Craigslist lurkers, mistaking them for the delivery guy telling me he was outside with my food.

The first reply to Jassica's post was a bot - bots are still faster than weird dudes in basements refreshing Craigslist. It included a link that would probably take me to a website that would download my blood type from my computer.

Beyond the people mentioning that I would be their 'live-in girlfriend' who would 'share a bed' with them, a surprisingly low number of the responders thought it prudent to mention how much the rent for the room was. In fact, only 29% of the initial messages I received mentioned rent at all. Of those, 17% offered the room for 'free' - usually in exchange for some kind of service. Only 8% gave me a price, and a shocking 4% of responses actually said they would pay me to live with them. One guy said 'Will you be needing a car?' His apartment was in Manhattan. Jassica just moved here from Kansas City - she doesn't know the hell of finding a parking space in Manhattan. Don't waste Jassica's time.

I began to notice a trend. Several men reached out to me and then sent annoyed or angry texts when I didn’t reply as fast as they wanted me to. This is a pretty clear sign that you're talking to someone you don't want to rent from or live with. It was a Thursday afternoon - if you're expecting me to pay you rent to live in your home, maybe you should respect my time in the middle of the standard work day. Some of the people texting and emailing me were pissed that I didn't respond in a ridiculously short length of time.

Many of the messages I received asked for photos. They were eager to see what Jassica looked like, but very few could provide pictures of their apartments when I asked to see the place. Their justification for wanting selfies was usually that 'there are lots of scammers online' or 'I want to know who I'm talking to,' but neither of those reasons really make sense. If you want to make sure I'm not a scammer, ask for my photo ID.

Case studies

A few people I communicated with really stood out from the rest. Let's examine them.

I read this message and am almost impressed by how delusional it is, and how dumb this person is assuming Jassica to be. I was simultaneously intrigued. What does a nudist house share look like? I was envisioning a wood-paneled, open floor plan lake house filled with weird old hippies, all just...chilling naked. I smiled to myself, imagining a nudist couple enjoying a game of ping pong while their like-minded and similarly scantily-clad peers cheered them on.

I responded, saying it wasn't as close to the city as I was hoping for, but I could be interested. I asked if they had any photos of the place, and I received them shortly after.

The reflection in the frame on the mantle confirmed that this man was committed to the nudist lifestyle, but (of course) the photos weren't anything like I had imagined. Why were the couches such soft, squishy fabric if a community of naked people shared them? Did they just unabashedly absorb one another's butt sweat when they lounged in the living room? So I asked how many members there were in this nudist commune.

I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been. Even though I'd set out on this experiment knowing I'd have people trying to fool me, thinking I was just posing as a small town bumpkin, I had kind of been tricked. Of course it would just be me and this dude, hanging out naked. Why did I even think for a moment that I would stumble upon some idyllic community of nudists in Long Island on Craigslist?

What did we learn?

Stay vigilant when apartment hunting! Don't let casual phrasing fool you and don't be afraid to ask for more information.

The Paragraph Man's opening text message to me was 416 words - this is just a short section of it. I'm not sure how he was able to discern so much about Jassica's personality from the very brief Craigslist post I made. He claimed to be a retired Wall Street investor who lived in a doorman building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was very generous in his offer and the text was accompanied by 5 photos - one of him holding his identical dogs, and 4 of his identical dogs looking like they were being haunted by some Victorian-era ghosts.

You may have seen the screenshot above from the guy who was looking for a Dominant Female to place him in chastity and lock away the key. To me, that man is far less insidious than Paragraph Man. The submissive guy was upfront about his desires and what he wanted from Jassica in exchange for the apartment. Paragraph Man is trying to overwhelm Jassica with kindness, cloud her judgement, and get her in his house so he could then announce the transactional and sexual nature of the roommate situation.

Paragraph Man was one of the many men who got in his feelings when Jassica didn't reply right away. He repeatedly mentioned the expensive workout equipment in his home and sent even more pictures of his creepy dogs. The dog photos all appear to have been taken inside his apartment, and the apartment looks very dirty and old. It doesn't look like it's in a doorman building in Manhattan, and it doesn't look like a super wealthy retired Wall Street guy lives there. I'm not going to show you the dogs because you may become possessed by some demon upon gazing into their glowing eyes, but I will show you the apartment so you can see where I'm coming from.

What did we learn?

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

But wait, there's more!

Enjoy the image below of some of the most unusual replies Jassica received. Be warned - they're out there.

What did we learn?

To really get a potential tenant's attention, start out by telling them, 'I'm very cool.'

How to avoid scams and dick pics

There are plenty of ways to not get scammed when apartment hunting. Unless you want to be woken up in the middle of the night by heavy breathing weirdos, I would suggest not writing a Craigslist post like Jassica’s. Beyond that, what can you do to protect yourself?

Know the market

Every once and awhile, a person finds an incredible place at an unbelievably low price that is actually real. Like, once every 70 years. Besides these unicorns, if something seems too good to be true, trust your gut - it probably is.

Do your research. Know what rent usually costs in the areas you’re hoping to live in so you can better spot fake listings. These statistics are easily available online. Want to know which states have the most expensive rent in the country? We got you. Curious about where you can find the cheapest rent in the US? We got you there, too. And it’s important to keep in mind that subletting is often cheaper than renting, so be sure you understand what a sublet is likely to cost you.

Protect your info and your cash

An aspect of Craigslist that is far from ideal is that you reply to apartment listings from your personal email address. Any information you give that stranger is theirs to do whatever they want with it. A common scam is telling an interested tenant that the apartment is in high demand so they need to ‘act fast’ to reserve it. The scammer will then ask you to complete a rental application and/or send a deposit. Don’t do that!

In the olden days (think 10 years ago), scammers would ask for a wire transfer. That still happens, but it’s become more sophisticated. Some people have made this their full-time job. If designing a legit-looking website or PayPal email address will make them more money off people looking for a place to live, they’ll put in the work to do that. In general, you should always be careful sending money electronically for housing - it’s risky.

Giving away your money and your social security number to some rando with a Yahoo email address is not the way. That’s how we got here in the first place - the person who DMed us ‘Help’ on Instagram lost thousands of dollars that way. Use a platform that protects your information instead of giving away your identity.

Fact-check apartment listings

Craigslist is not your only option here. Anyone can make a Craigslist ad offering housing, email you pictures of an apartment they found online, and seem like they’re legit. That’s why Flip built features specifically designed to stop scammers. We have automated filters that kick scammers off of our platform as soon as they try to make an account, and we have a process for verifying that listers actually have the apartment in their photos available.

On top of that, every place listed on Flip is covered by the Flip Listing Guarantee. Basically, if anything in the place you move in to isn’t as advertised, we’ll refund any money you paid and find you a new home.

Know the law

Maybe this sounds boring to you but, like G.I. Joe says, knowledge is power and knowing is half the battle. Is someone asking for a security deposit that seems a little high? Check local laws - many states have rules limiting how much someone can charge for a deposit. Know what the standard process for applying for an apartment is, so that you can catch any red flags if someone asks you for unusual information. There is a federal fair housing law that protects renters from discrimination, but some states have added extra protections on top of the federal ones. Make sure you know what to look for in a lease before you sign it.

Research! Flip has a knowledge base full of legal information in plain English to empower renters.

Other ways to stay safe

  • Use Google’s reverse image search to make sure you’re not seeing photos of an apartment someone just found online. The ‘middleman scam’ is really common - a person pretends they are just managing the property on behalf of the owner who is mysteriously not local. They usually use pictures they downloaded from a listing site. The apartment you’re seeing exists, they just have absolutely nothing to do with it.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, don’t pay a deposit on an apartment you haven’t seen in real life. If you’re moving to a new city and can’t get out there yourself, find a friend in the area to check it out for you. Ask for a walk-through video or to video chat with the lister. Technology exists to make being scammed way less likely.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a lister to do a little extra to assure you a place is legit. If you’re feeling iffy about it, ask them to hop on the phone or a video call. Anyone who is hesitant to do so is likely ripping you off. An honest person knows that people run apartment scams and will be willing to do what it takes to show you the apartment you want is real and available.
  • Don’t say you’re a young female model from a small town. Even if you are. Just don’t lead with that.

Any questions?

Hit us in the DMs or through email at support@flip.lease.

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