Lately we have been playing around with the idea of moving to a two bedroom apartment, so that we could have a dedicated office that can double as a guest room when we get visits from the olden country. And since we found our current little hideaway on gumtree.com, it felt just natural to give the site another try. If you don’t know, gumtree is a ad site, where you can find apartments, jobs or other shit. And as on every ad site on the internet, there might be people there that aren’t necessarily honest. And we found one of the those.
While searching for apartments we came across one by Putney Heath: a two bedroom flat to only £700 a month. Wow, almost to good to be true. But we had to give it a go just in case, and sent an inquiry email through gumtree, and got this answer:
From: hodge alexander <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Reply to your ad: 2 bedroom flat to rent in Tildesley Road, Putney Heath, SW15 Date: 17 March 2010 12:34:14 GMT To: Jonas Knutsen Hi, My name is Alexander and now i'm now in Denmark. I have the flat for rent and I’m a private landlord. The rent is 700£ / month including all bills electricity, water, gas,etc and the concil tax,minimum stay : 2 weeks and max 1-2 years. Security Deposit-returnable at the end of a month stay in my flat. Utility bills inclusive,Utility Cost : £ 0.00 pcm . Before start the deal you must have the money cash and ready to pay for 2 months 1400£ (1 month rent + 1 month security deposit). In case you want it, let me know so we can arrange the transaction. Rental price is lower because i want to rent the apartment fast as possible.You can keep pet if you have. The flat and the flat is fully furnished, newly refurbished and also benefits from wood flooring. You have internet, phone, washing machine with dryer,tube station only five minutes,private garden, cable TV and most important parking place.The flat is clean,the area is quiet . I am waiting your answer soon. Regards...
OK, £700 for a fully furnished apartment with everything included. There must be something wrong here. A little googling found the name Hodge Alexander mentioned in a scam involving selling a video camera a while back. And we also found some examples on apartment scams on gumtree. A common scam is that the supposed landlord says he is not in the area of the apartment right now, and he will need proof that you are able to pay the rent and deposit. Just so that he knows he have a reason to come back to where the apartment is, and show it to you. It would be a shame if you tried to scam him, right? To prove that you are able to pay the future rent, he asks you to prove this by making a money transfer through Western Union.
But, to try to convince you that the scammer is not scamming you, he’ll tell you to wire the money to a friend of yours and not him. And just mail him the receipt of the transfer. He just need proof that you are able to pay. But after you send him the receipt, he will print it out, take the identity of your friend, and withdraw the money at a Western Union branch. And you have no apartment, it wasn’t even his to begin with anyway, and you have lost two months rent.
But we played along, and mailed him back:
Subject: Re: Reply to your ad: 2 bedroom flat to rent in Tildesley Road, Putney Heath, SW15 From: Jonas Knutsen Date: 17 March 2010 13:52:06 GMT To: hodge alexander <firstname.lastname@example.org> Hi! We are very much interested in the flat, and are primarily looking to rent for two years (May/June 2012). But we would need to have a look at the apartment before we make up our mind. Is this possible, and in that case, when? Deposit is no problem. br Jonas Knutsen
And then this came:
From: hodge alexander <email@example.com> Subject: RE: Reply to your ad: 2 bedroom flat to rent in Tildesley Road, Putney Heath, SW15 Date: 17 March 2010 15:24:13 GMT To: Jonas Knutsen Hello, Thank you very much for your answer.So for a viewing or want me to reserve my property down for him/she will have to show me a proof of there seriousness in the property,well this is what you will have to do for me before i can come down for the viewing, You will pay cash to western union cash collection (£1400) to any of your friend, family,or viceversa in Uk ,after you've made the transfer finish you will be given a receipt from the Office western union agent,you will have to scan and email me the receipt to make the confirmation from western union if you made any transaction from them or not, immediately i made the confirmation from them and i confirm that you have made the transfer through them i must to meet for the viewing, I will want you to read this and understand me better, just to let you know this am not asking you to send me any money before showing you my property but i just need a proof through western receipt.You can view the property next 1-2 days after you prove the payment or when you have time... What is Western Union ??? western union is a Money Transfer provides an easy to use, reliable and cost effective way to send money around in the city. I will give you back the transfer fee when i meet you... you don't lost any money. NB: PLS DO NOT MAKE PAYMENT TO ME OR IN MY NAME, WHAT I NEED IS JUST AN EVIDENCE THAT YOU HAVE THE CASH AVAILABLE IN WESTERN UNION ACCOUNT UNTIL THE DAY YOU SEE THE FLAT. Best Regards...
Hey, presto! So there you go, case closed. We stopped there, not sure what good it would do to keep going and pretend further, as some people like to do. Although it would be interesting to see just how bad his spelling would end up (although, I probably shouldn’t be the one to complain about just that). My friend Alexander has not tried to mail to ask why I haven’t answered, and the ad is long gone from gumtree. A few days later, however, we found another two bedroom flat to £700, this time in Putney, and sent a new mail, and got the exact same answer back, only that this time it was from a Carlos Lee, and he was in Scotland. We didn’t bother to ask for a viewing.
So the moral of this story is, as it often is, if something is to good to be true, it most likely is. And there are a lot of bastards in the world.
UPDATE 1st December 2010
As you can read from the comments (from some very smart people) below this post, the scam is also happening on CraigsList. Even with the same name. Luckily these fine people didn’t fall for the scam, but as the case often are, someone most likely has. Otherwise they would have stopped this particular scam, and tried something new. So if you have come across this post because an online ad has made you suspicious, please write when and where in the comments field, so that others can be warned.