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Read this before making that guaranteed refundable deposit

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October 24th, 2016

have often written about how scammers like to target older people, but as this story proves, they don’t discriminate—they’re happy to steal from anyone.

My daughter Caroline, a recent college graduate, was looking for her first apartment in Washington, D.C. Her desired neighborhood lies between George Washington University and Georgetown University—an area dense with young people looking to lease apartments. Not surprisingly, it’s also an area where even the smallest studio commands hefty rent. 

Caroline started her search on apartments.com and was bursting with excitement when she found a large one bedroom for $1,200 a month. That was the first red flag. The rent was the lowest listed and didn’t make sense, especially since the property was furnished.  

Thinking she had found the apartment of her dreams, Caroline contacted the property owner via email. The woman said she was an attorney who had unexpectedly been transferred overseas—a common situation in Washington, D.C. 

She went on to say that she didn’t have time to list the property with a real estate agent, so the nitty-gritty of deposits and rental payments would go through Airbnb, the online property listing service. 

She told Caroline to make a deposit equal to two months rent to an Airbnb account. Once that was received, the key to the property would be “released.” She didn’t specify how or by whom. Second red flag. 

Caroline would have five days to inspect the apartment. If she didn’t want it, her deposit would be fully refunded within 24 hours. 

Too good to be true

The mere idea of finding an affordable apartment in a terrific neighborhood created a rush strong enough to force Caroline’s college-educated brain to play second fiddle to her youthful emotions. 

“Who pays any money, much less $2,400, to inspect an apartment?” I asked.

“The money goes through Airbnb, a legitimate company,” Caroline answered, already planning her move. 

While that’s true, it’s not necessarily enough to vouch for the seller’s legitimacy. Before we went any further, Caroline did a Google search of the owner’s name along with the word “scam.” 

It took about two seconds to confirm my hunch. On a chat site where people report scams, we discovered that Leslie Andree had sent identical emails to people around the globe. Sadly, some of them were robbed. Not only was that advertised apartment nonexistent, but the so-called Airbnb involvement was a ruse as well. 

The scammer had created an email address and Web portal that was nearly identical to that of Airbnb. Most people wouldn’t notice the difference even if they bothered to look.

Caroline reported the scammer to apartments.com, but you can be certain that somewhere someone just found that same nonexistent apartment on another property listing website.   

This scam targets young people who may not have experience with the normal protocol of renting a property. Share this story with your grandchildren. While it’s true that the Internet has made finding just about anything faster and easier, that same easy access has also helped scammers bilk unsuspecting people out of a lot of money. Don’t let it happen to someone you love!

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