I Fell Victim To A Cruel Forked River Rental Scam
This is probably one of the most embarrassing things that I will ever write about — I've been scammed — and yes, I lost some money along the way.
When you hear about someone getting scammed, people usually think that the victim is older and uneducated with technology — well, that stereotype is dangerous. My experience just goes to show that people of all age groups can be scammed very easily.
People who want money are more talented than ever before. I am not sure if people are becoming hip to the normal scamming procedures, and scammers are becoming more desperate, but they are taking advantage of the outbreak of Coronavirus and virtual meetings to take money from hardworking people.
This story is slightly complicated — so you might want to read it twice to fully understand what happened (if I am being honest, it's been a few days, and I am still processing what happened).
I have been on the hunt for a one-bedroom apartment or home for the last year or so. Since then, I have really couldn't find anything at the Jersey Shore. I always tried to avoid websites like Craigslist and even Facebook Marketplace because that is where things start to get shady.
Early last week, I came across a home in the Forked River area that was being rented for $1,100 with utilities included. I talked with the woman about the rental over email at first to get a gist of what it all was about.
Everything seemed to be on the up and up. Firstly, I asked to speak to her. She called me, and she sounded like a normal lady. Very friendly, and she even explained the rental to me. I discussed my situation — my annual income, credit score, etc. She asked if she could send an application and run a background check on me so that she can approve me for the rental.
At this point, I was excited. All I have been looking for the few months was a place that I could call home. Perhaps I let my emotions get the best of me, and I got scammed because of that? I am not sure — but I still believe I did everything right.
I sent the rental application — with my social security number (like every other rental application I have seen) to the woman. She got back to me rather quickly and even told me that she was going to have her attorney draw up a rental application.
I was jumping for joy at this point — I thought that I was going to have a place to myself (again, I believe my emotions got the best of me — but who could blame me?).
I was sent a very official-looking document. It even had a signature of an attorney at the bottom of the lease contract. After consultation with my parents and close friends, I decided to sign it. I then sent her the security deposit of $500.
Then everything went south.
A day passed, and I was fired up. I was ready to move in — so I called her again with no answer. I figured that she was out or dealing with something — okay, no problem.
A few hours later, I tried to call her again, and she didn't answer again — weird, but I understand she is probably busy.
The next day I shot her a text and asked her to call me. A few hours later, she did — from a different number. When "she" answered, a man who was laughing was trying to impersonating a woman's voice and muttered that I am so stupid so I asked if this was a scam —
and they hung up. Shortly after, they blocked my phone number and deleted their email and apartment listing.
I was heartbroken. I wasn't even angry for losing the $500 (which I later got back) — I was enraged because I went from feeling I am on top of the world — to feeling like an idiot. It was a big jump that took a minor toll on my mental health for a few days (and I am still having a hard time processing it).
Here is what I think happened — the person who scammed me posted a listing of a home for sale. They then came up with a sob story about how they are no longer interested in selling their home and wanting to rent it out. This explains the for sale sign on the front lawn of the house.
The scammer then did some extensive searches for the actual owner of the property that was being sold — and they created a fake listing and used her name in the email address and email correspondence. She even went by the name of the owner when we spoke on the phone.
The realtor of the property later confirmed that this was the case and that I was not the only one that has been scammed while this property was up for sale.
This made me even angrier. I am lucky that I have a stable place to live and a steady job where I could afford a loss of $500. However, some people don't have a permanent position (especially during COVID-19) and cannot afford to have their social security number exposed or lose $500 — plus, all of the time they took with this fake rental — they could have been looking into other rentals in the area (and God knows that they are a rarity).
I guess the moral of the story is to do as many fact checks as you can before committing yourself to something. I should have met her in person. Even during the outbreak of Coronavirus, I should have insisted on meeting her before I signed anything — and I know that now.
I'll be honest — before this happened to me, I honestly believed that only technologically illiterate people got scammed. I have learned that I was ignorant.
Don't make the same mistake that did.