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A Brilliant Craig’s List Scam (Beware of DS Properties)

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My wife and I are doing a little apartment shopping. Our place is fine enough, but we thought we might want to add little space... plus the rents have gone down a bit in Silicon Valley and we feel we can get more for our money. I particularly like Craig's List for this purpose because we can cyber-stalk a few places to get an idea of the market.

An interesting thing happened last Saturday night when I did my Craig's List search. A 2600 square foot, 4 bedroom house in Redwood City came up at $1700. This is in contrast to the two bedroom, 1100 sq. ft. place we have now at $2075 a month. The advertisement was simply too good to be true. Nonetheless, I figure it can't hurt to ask. Here's the response I got:

Thank you for contacting us about the property. The property is still available as of now. We are trying to find a tenant for this property ASAP, first-come-first-serve basis. Move-in date is negotiable.

We are a group of real estate investors. We have many rental properties available with great lease term. In order to handle large amount of inquiries as quickly as possible, we ask you to follow our process.

We only deal with possible tenants who can provide us with their own credit report. We have learned over the years that by doing some pre-screening up front we save great deal of time. This is how we can offer you lower than market rent and still be able to profit. We think this is a win-win for all parties involved. You will not be disqualified as long as you don't have any major real estate related problem on your credit report.

If you already have a recent report we may be able accept that, as long as it contains the information that we are looking for. It has to be taken within the last 30 days (no exception there) from a reputable company. Otherwise please go to our investor tools page at http://www.dsproperties.info/4694.html and follow the credit report link there. We prefer their report and it will process fastest with us. They have free trial.

Contact us back only after you obtained the actual report. Be sure to include the ID below in your follow-ups. Then we'll have the investor in charge of this property contact you. You are to bring the credit report and the rental application (which is also on the investor tools page) directly to the investor at the time of showing. Do not email or mail sensitive information for privacy/security reason.

Can you spot the scam? If you are a personal finance blogger, I bet you can. If you go to the link they provide, they are an affiliate for FreeCreditReport.com. That means that they earn a few bucks from everyone they can convince to sign up and join the service. How can FreeCreditReport.com offer this? In order to get your "free" credit report, you have to agree to sign up for some services at a monthly fee. If you are on top of things, you can cancel the services right away... but there's enough people who let it slip to make it profitable. It's a little bit like rebate breakage in that way.

I wrote them back with my Credit Karma score (which really is free - no strings attached). Funny, but they didn't respond to me. It's probably because the deal that was too good to be true actually was.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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21 Responses to “A Brilliant Craig’s List Scam (Beware of DS Properties)”

  1. Sam says:

    That is pretty brilliant. When I was reading, I figured they were just identity thieves. Anytime someone gives you a url like that, I’m always skeptical.

  2. I was turned off at the whole, “you must follow our process and bring your own credit report.” That’s pretty fishy. The whole bit about having your own credit report allows them to offer less than market value on the property seems suspicious to me and I wouldn’t give them anything. Maybe they are legit, but their email has a lot of grammatical errors – which is a big red flag when reading emails from scammers – and their whole process seems to be like a house of cards. Their partnership with FreeCreditReport.com notwithstanding, as a real estate business, they should be able to pull consumer credit reports themselves and process applications. If they can’t, I would question that. It may simply be the kick-back from FCR.com, but I wonder if it isn’t just a scam to get your credit report information altogether. I dunno LM, I’d leave that supposed good deal alone.

  3. jim says:

    It’s very clever but I wonder how many will be duped… I once read about some spammer who did the same thing but with personals. They’d post some picture of a girl and all the respondents would be asked to join some singles site to talk to her.

  4. Su Prieta says:

    I agree with Kristy. My first thought after reading this was that they were getting a bunch of people to send them their credit reports stocked with social security numbers, addresses, places of employment and credit history. Seems like an identity theft’s dream.

  5. tom says:

    Thanks for the warning, but heres another one i came across in December.

    There is someone or group of them, they go on craigslist and steal someone else’s picture of their apartment and advertise it for rent.

    When you reply, they want you to send them all their info. Also, they claim they really want to get rid of it because it is a mom and kids from Africa or something like that.

    pure scam

  6. Wow! This is really scary. I was concerned that they were first asking for the credit report directly (identity theft?) but to also be linked to FreeCreditReport.com plus not even respond to you. This is definitely a scam, one way or another. Yikes… Does FreeCreditReport know about it?

  7. Cos says:

    FCR itself is a scam.

    http://www.annualcreditreport.com is the one backed by the three agencies and the only actual free one. go right to the source in the case of your credit report. i believe there are some other free ways to get it through third parties but FCR is in no way “free.”

    what a scam on the “bring your credit report” thing – thanks for the info, Lazy. maybe this is a scam on both sides of the deal: the refer into FCR to make a commission PLUS they get people to cough up info needed for identity theft.

  8. Patrick says:

    I didn’t go to the website, but I had a feeling that is what it was. It’s a good scam, provided it doesn’t break any TOS for the affiliate agreement (not that I care if they do). You can’t be too careful.

  9. Wow, that is a pretty “good” scam. At least they weren’t trying to steal your money, but it’s still annoying. Free Credit Report is such a ripoff, but I’m willing to donate to their clever commercial jingle writers.

    Do you think rent prices have really gone down around here? Last I looked (about 7 months ago when I moved) they were going up as housing prices were going down. I used to live in San Mateo, but have since moved to RWC where it’s cheaper. But it’s cheaper because it’s RWC and I live with roommates, not because rents are going down. :)

  10. Yet another example of how the credit score industry tries to exploit consumers in ways that have nothing to do with their financial status.

    Thanks for bringing this evidence forward.

  11. Amy says:

    I AM SO GLAD THIS ARTICLE WAS POSTED!!! I fell for this AD too…STUPID ME!!! I was on Craigslist.com and I came across an AD for a 2 Bedroom/2 Bath Townhouse; remodeled, new paint, new appliances, 1 car garage, backyard, and the landlord pays for electric, gas, sewer/water, and trash all for $760 a month. Security was listed as first months rent + $300. I replied to the AD and I received the same, exact, word for word email that was reference above!!!!! I still thought this was legit, so I went to freecreditreport.com (the “free” credit report that the company was accepting) and I PAID $15 to see my credit report because I wasn’t eligible AGAIN for the free trial. (I actually signed up for my “free-trial” of freecreditreport.com about 5 months ago and never cancelled my memebership…I did not see ONE STATEMENT on the website that says you must cancel your membership within 9 days in order to not be billed every month! Anyway, I then saw on my bank statements that I had this charge of $15 EVERY month and I had no idea what it was for. I called the bank and told me that it was for freecreditreport.com. BOY WAS I PISSED OFF!!!!!!!!!!!! I then called freecreditreport.com to finally cancel my membership after being charge $80 of monthly membership fees and I tell ya…I ripped them a new one!!!!!) Which by the way, freecreditreport.com is ANOTHER RIP OFF!!! To make a long story short, I obtained my credit report as this DS Properties company requested and emailed them back stating I have it so I can go out to look at this rental. I never heard word back again. I then came across this article and THANK GOD I DID!!!! I’m still out of $15, which isn’t a big deal, but getting all worked up over this AMAZING, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE apartment is what got me the worst!! I am in the process right now to report these people to IC3- Internet Crime Complaint Center, who then relays information on to the Better Business Bureau. Hopefully this “company” will recognized with FALSE ADVERTISEMENT.

  12. Wow, that’s soooo low that scam. Good thing you spotted it!

  13. Anon says:

    OK, I don’t normally post as anon, but I work in the online advertising, so I’ll keep it somewhat low-pro.

    There are some people in the comments who don’t seem to fully understand what’s going on.
    – FreeCreditReport is not at fault here. They’re not doing this or even directly pushing this.
    – It’s quite likely that the apartment listed does not really exist.
    – The “credit” industry is not out to get you.
    – No one here is trying to steal your personal information, they’re just trying to make some money.

    Here’s how it works.

    FreeCreditReport has an affiliate program. It’s basically like an open call for commissions sales people. As a “salesperson”, they give you a special URL that sends people to the FreeCreditReport site. When somebody using that URL signs up for the service, you get a cut. (known as a “cost per action” or CPA)

    Lots and lots of companies have these affiliate programs. Netflix is one of the biggest out there right now. But phone companies, dating sites, banks, credit cards (like CapitalOne) and other often run such programs. In fact, there are several companies (Azoogle, Incentaclick, Commission Junction) that do nothing but manage hundreds of these offers and track performance on behalf of the providers.

    So Netflix figures that each new sign-up is worth say $20. So they put up a “CPA offer” on Azoogle that basically says “anyone who can generate a legitimate sign-up will receive $20” (or $20 minus Azoogle’s cut). This is an easy win for Netflix, they don’t need to hire hourly sales people and they only need to pay for qualified sign-ups.

    Now most people do this process legitimately. They buy $3 worth of clicks from an ad network (Google or Yahoo or a host of others) and they get a $5 sign-up and then “rinse/repeat”. Or they’ll place classified ads or other inexpensive ads and generate “sign-ups”. As long as a $10 ad brings in $11 worth of business, then these guys just keep rolling.

    So back to the scam.

    This “scammer” is basically using Craiglist and a little deception to get people to sign up for FreeCreditReport accounts. He makes say $5 or $10 every time somebody signs up and all it cost was a cheap website and some time putting up fake ads on Craigslist.

    Instead of paying for advertising space, he gets it “for free”, which means that he makes more money off the deal. A few bucks here and there seems like pretty small potatoes, a 40k worker in the US makes like $160 / day, so why bother?

    Yes the “broken English” comment was definitely a tip-off to the scam, but it also tells us something about the perp. If you’re in Thailand or Ukraine or India, getting even 4 sign-ups ($20-40 / day) can actually be pretty cost-efficient when your friends are making $3 / hour working full time and you just have to spend a couple of hours roping in some “rich” Americans.

    @Amy, I’m sorry that you got roped in. It’s good that you’re following up, but unlikely that there will be much follow-through. The US legal system is simply not equipped to handle the global Internet.

  14. Lazy Man says:

    I understand that some people here may not understand how affiliate programs work. Thanks to anon for explaining it. I thought it was outside the scope of the post. It would have taken a lot more words to explain (as you showed).

    Regular readers know that I’m part of a few affiliate programs. I have not joined FreeCreditReport because their business model is not to give you your credit report for free as their name says. They give you a credit report in exchange for signing up for other services that cost money. As I explained it’s like rebates depending on breakage. While FreeCreditReport may be legal, their name is misleading to consumers… that’s something that I can’t ignore… and it plays a role in this scam. This is true whether FreeCreditReport.com knows about the scam or not. If they want to escape blame they should name themselves accurately.

    The “scammer” (don’t know why you use quotes) does not use “a little deception”… he out and out lies and says that properties are available for a certain price… when they are not. I’m sorry, but that’s a SCAM (no quotes necessary), and BIG deception.

    This is why I wrote about it. Someone like Amy is out money because someone else lied and misrepresented themselves. Sorry, but I feel it’s worth documenting to prevent other people from doing it.

  15. Moe says:

    First off I want to say thanks to everyone for posting about this scam. I came across a similar on craigslist San Diego. The ad was for a 2br townhouse for $950, utilities included. I thought it was a little cheap for a 2br townhouse, but times are tough so someone must be desperate. I said I’ll give it a shot and see what response I get. I sent a email to ask about the location so I could drive by and see the area and the leasing terms.
    I received the same response. I looked at the website address and thought it was a bit strange, no dot com or dot net. I kept thinking about this at work and decided to research. I googled keywords to see if I could find any information on DS Properties and no luck. So eventually I decided to type in scam and here I am. My gut feeling was correct. Must sure you get the word out so no one falls for this scam. People should be ashamed of themselves for not being truthful.

  16. Tom says:

    Ah yes. The “not-so-free” free credit report. I wrote a guest post about that for Lending Club about a year ago – Keep Your Free Credit Report Free.

    I wonder if this craigslist scam violates freecreditreport.com’s terms of service.

  17. Joe B says:

    Just playing devil’s advocate, as someone who has rented my whole life, I was always charged a credit check free of around $40 and from what I was told, it wasn’t the credit report they wanted to see but the credit score (which you won’t get from annualcreditreport.com)…now this probably was a scam I won’t deny that (usually when an advertised rental is priced too good too be true, that’s the first sign something is wrong) but some landlords will let you bring your own credit report & score with their application, this is not unheard of.

  18. cj says:

    I got this while answering to a job on Craigslist.

    Sounds Good ,
    It’s really nice to hear back from you quickly,it
    shows your effectiveness and i think I’m going to be satisfied if i let you handle the Paint job,I’m looking for a good and honest person to help with the Painting of my four bedroom flat,i need someone who is honest cause I’m a Dr and also do business and I’m presently out of the states,i want the Painting to be done before i get back to the states in september 18,i already made arrangements for who will be paying you through check for a Paint and nice job ,my caretaker will be showing you the Home apts you will Paint so the locations shouldn’t be a problem since she will there to help you,i will be calling the caretaker so she can be around the house when you will be Painting my home for me,i will instruct my Accountant to issue you payment and mail out the Check to you with update of the UPS tracking #,So that you can deduct your amount which i believe is a reasonable amount for your Painting and have the remaining funds wired to the caretaker via Moneygram MONEY TRANSFER so she can bring down the keys to you or she could be available when you will be Painting up my home ,I’m only doing this cause I’m presently out of the states and i want things to go smoothly and perfect.Also i will be paying you $700 for the painting job.please kindly get back to me with this
    1.Full Name to issue out the payment,
    2.Address where payment will be delivered to you
    3.Phone number,
    4.I will offer you $700 i will be waiting to hear back from you thanks.
    and God bless Jimmy.
    NOTE: Don’t forget to get back with the required information(details) so the payment can be mailed out to you first,you will be deducting your own money and have the remaining sent to the caretaker via Money Gram only.
    Thanks.
    Jimmy.

  19. Ana says:

    this is the email I got from CL scammer:

    “First and foremost, thank you for your interest in the home. I am available to show the house this week if that fits your schedule. Just to give you a little more information about the home, the water, trash and garbage are paid by us. The security deposit can be paid in 2 installments if money is tight. (I know how that can be).

    The house has a fenced in backyard and we do allow pets. The deposit per pet is a one time payment. The house includes a washer and dryer, and we pay for lawn care so the renter does not have to cut the grass. There is NO application fee

    I do require that all applicants and additional renters who will be living in the home complete a creditcheck to ensure their eligibility. I have so many people apply for homes that I have to make sure they are qualified renters before I show the property. This ensures neither of us will be wasting our time.

    It is okay if you have bad credit (trust me). We just check to make sure that you don’t have several evictions on your record. (We won’t rent if you have 3 or more evictions on your record)

    I also had to recently stop giving out the exact address of rental properties before I am able to show them because last time I did that the house was vandalized (I will be glad to send you the address right after your reply) I assure you though that this is a very safe neighborhood. I actually lived in this home for 2 years (very cozy).

    As soon as you can, please click and go to the secure website link below to complete the credit check: (takes about 30 seconds) Once you complete, I’ll call you.

    Click Here for Credit Check

    This process turns some people off, so I completely understand if you decide not to complete them. In that case, good luck with your home search. I just want to be honest with you up front about our process, which does a good job of protecting us from ineligible renters and scammers.

    If you are truly interested in proceeding, Let me know when this is done and we can then work out the time and date to go see the home. Email me back once you are done. (Make sure to include a valid phone number. I usually call within 6 hours of submitting for your credit check. Then I can forward you the address and we can set up a time to tour the home.)

    If eligible you will also be sent an email with my office number so we can set up a time to go see the house and discuss any other questions or concerns you may have.

    Thank you
    Mark S. “

  20. susan says:

    I also fell victim to a craigslist scam similar to everyone’s story here. I applied to a craigslist ad for employment that I wish I had trusted my gut and not applied in the first place. Little did I know it was a scam. I received an email from a person named Nelly Morales with her position title and the name of the company in the emal and so it seemed legitimate at the time. Usually I am very good about researching before I send anything, but somehow that night I did not take precaution and look up the bogus company’s name online. The link from the email sent me to creditreport.com where it was mentioned in the email that there was a free trial for credit report. I didn’t think much of anything and when I went ahead to send my credit score to the person’s email, the email address backfired and I received a mail delivery failure notice. That was when I became very worried because I have provided my SSN (which is required to check credit score, I know) and my credit card number to creditreport.com. I immediately searched online for creditreport.com and found out that it is a scam that makes fraudulent charges to your credit card. I became frantic and called my bank to cancel my credit card and have them monitor transactions, in case of possible unauthorized future charges.
    My second initial thought was identity theft and how I did not know whether creditreport.com is a legitimate credit scoring company, or not.

    I am extremely grateful that the email backfired so none of my information from the credit report got sent out. I called creditreport.com the next day in my 7 day trial to cancel my membership. It was fairly easy when I told them that I got scammed on craigslist and proceeded to cancel my credit card. That cut off their sales pitch right away. The representative canceled my membership, but I am still waiting for the final email cancellation confirmation that would come in 5 days time; however, it did not assuage my worry about identity theft just because I gave creditreport.com personal financial information about myself unbeknownst to the scam that I was involved in.

    Your post really helped me see clearly that this was a craigslist scam and an affiliate program scam. I am still not 100% assured that there is no identity theft involved, especially with creditreport.com because of so many negative online reviews they get from customers. I will continue to monitor my financial statements to see if there’s any dip in credit score, new credit application, etc. I do feel relieved to know that this ordeal may just be a simple affiliate program scam and will not lead to the possibility of identity theft—that is the only legitimate fear I have. What do you think?

  21. Shayna says:

    I found the same thing. I applied for a job that was advertised on craigslist and I got a reply that I was one of three potential people to get the job, and I needed to go to free creditreport.com to get my FREE credit score and then email them back the confirmation number and then I will be set up an interview. It seemed wierd because the writing was written like an advertisement and it was in small print letters and I thought it was computer generated. This is so stupid that they do this to people.

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