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Craigslist Apartments Double as Credit-Score Traps

| Patrick Flood

Craigslist, an online classified section with ads for jobs, love, severely over- and under-priced furniture, and apartments, among other things, can be a font of opportunity for the Internet savvy. As a young and sometimes Internet-savvy person, I have found multiple jobs, my current apartment, and some of my furniture on the site.

But Craigslist can also be a font of opportunity for scammers. Apartment hunters, in particular, can be prey for deceptive Craigslist advertisers. Apartments that look too good to be true prove often to be exactly that, as some listings, particularly those in big cities with housing squeezes like New York, are bait for traps that seek to trick apartment hunters into paying for unneeded (Sometimes called a “Consumer Report.”) A communication of any information by a credit reporting agency that bears on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used to or expected to be used to establish a consumer’s eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, or other purposes. Typically refers to the reports generated by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. But see “Specialty Consumer Reporting Agency.”s. I ran into a handful of such scams during my apartment hunt, and they can be particularly confusing for naïve apartment hunters.

About a year ago I saw an advertisement on Craigslist for a studio apartment in Astoria, Queens. The apartment was reasonably priced, the listing had pictures, and, though there was no specific address, the apartment was located in a decent, non-threatening neighborhood. I e-mailed to set up a showing.

Here is the response to my e-query:

“I got your e-mail for the apartment. I apologize I couldn’t answer your e-mail faster, but I have just been overwhelmed with all the responses. To setup a show date please send me the following info: the number of months or years you have with your present employer, your yearly income, and your most recent credit score. Make sure that your credit score is recent (at least 1 week old).
If you are not aware of your credit score, use the link below. This score is up to date and free.
[link to credit score website]
As soon as I receive this information, I can set a show date. Thanks “

The link that I clicked on, now dead, led to a website that offers a copy of your credit score in exchange for a fee. This is where the scam alarm in the back of my head went off. I didn’t know that much about credit reports at the time, but something seemed fishy and a Google search revealed as much. A copy of one’s credit score is available for free from each of the three credit bureaus once a year, so there’s no need to pay for one. In other words, the apartment listing was a setup intended to get apartment hunters to pay money for a credit report they don’t need, for an apartment that probably doesn’t even exist.

I got the same, or similar, e-mail responses from a handful of other listings, each with a link to a credit-report website. In researching this article, I e-mailed and asked for more information about a fishy-looking apartment and got this response.

Other consumer advocate sites, such as the Consumerist, are replete with examples of similar or identical scams.

Apartment seekers looking on Craigslist should remember that ads for apartments that have no exact location, no pictures, or a tempting price should be regarded carefully. And there’s no need to pay for a credit report before seeing an apartment.

Patrick Flood

Patrick was a former project associate who helped with TINA.org's social media efforts and wrote for the website. He holds a B.A. in Classical Languages from Wesleyan University.


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