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Craigslist Real Estate Scam Alert

UPDATE: After reading the post below, you can read more information and variations on the scam in this updated post.

UPDATE March 08: Thanks for the continued comments; while this hasn't stopped the scammers (international scams are especially hard to rein in), everyone who has commented (even anonymously) has helped others. Clearly the Eric Rosenfeld alias is the popular one now for scammers to use, but that should change constantly.

Consider this post a public service. Two people who I know well were getting close to caught up in a real estate scam on Craigslist, and in the extended entries I'm including the correspondence. Coincidentally, both people who were targeted knew each other and shared the emails with each other and noticed that some of the same wording was in each one, even though they were supposedly sent by different people. Here's how the scam works:

  • Someone posts a classified ad for a housing rental on Craigslist (the poster is the honest one here, the patsy). Both people I know who got sucked up posted in New York. It's safe to say this can happen to someone posting in any city, on or off Craigslist, but based on the volume of posts, ease of posting, and diversity of people posting (from those who are struggling financially to the well-heeled who are using all channels available), it's possible Craigslist is the target for the scam.
  • The scam artist responds in poor English, reminiscent of the Nigerian 419 scams. He claims to be a doctor from the UK - Dennis Johnson and Sanjay Gupta were used in these cases, and if you Google the names, you'll find that these are actual names of the UK doctors, so depending on your legal definition, it's likely the scammers are taking part in some form of identity theft. Note the irony that a UK-based doctor who will be working in the US for awhile writes such horrific English. Dr. Johnson couldn't even spell his own first name consistently, and he seems unsure whether he's a doctor or a lawyer. (An aside: Johnson's wife, Loveth Johnson, comes up in a Google search for Nigerian scams.)
  • A bit of back and forth ensues where the scammer asks for details about the apartment and shares more about their plans overseas. Dr. J even mentions Merck CEO Raymond V.Gilmartin will arrange things on his behalf; now that's one connected renter right there (forget that Gilmartin is actually the former CEO, one who ironically resigned when Congress started investigating the safety issues with Vioxx). While the Gilmartin mention only appeared in one letter of the two scams sent my way, consider the following excerpts from both of the solicitations:
    • Dr. Dennis Johnson: "Due to the limited time that we have before our arrival,we are making arrangements with a furniture company to supply the home with furniture,so we will need you to provide us with the measurements of the living room and bedroom so that we can send it to the furniture company so that they can supply the unit with furniture that will fit in well."
    • Dr. Arun Gupta, PhD: "Due to the limited time that I have before my arrival, I'm making arrangements with a furniture company to supply the home with furniture, so I will need you to provide me with the measurements of the living room and bedroom so that I can send it to the furniture company so that they can supply the unit with furniture that will fit in well."
  • The scammer says he sent a check for a certain amount to cover the security deposit and a couple months rent, but he used the same check to pay the furniture company too. Yet, surprise, his contact there is going on vacation and needs your help, so you can just refund the difference from the check they're sending you (don't try too hard to do the math here). Also, don't bother Googling company "Debbie Furnitures," as that doesn't exist. He makes it sound so urgent that someone who totally falls for all of this might just send the check before getting the other. It's possible he'll send a check as well, and the recipient will send the refund back before the scammer's check bounces.

That's the gist. For the full post, read the extended entry. The main goal for me here is that these letters are included in search engines' records so that when someone searches for anything remotely connected to these scams, the text will appear (if you'd care to reprint any of this or just link back here, feel free).

The email exchange of the scam is below, in reverse order. Note that personal details of the recipient are omitted.

From: Dennis johnson [mailto:dr.dennisjohnson247@yahoo.com]
Sent: Saturday, December 01, 2007 12:25 PM
To: [name]
Subject: RE: $$$00 / 4br - for rent by owner

Thanks for getting back to me,the check that was
sent to you was for the amount of $16,350 and was this is so is that
i asked my financier to include the costs of the furniture that i
am buying from a furniture company,why i asked her to do this is
because she told me that she will be going on her annual vacation
this week and so will not be around to help me to handle my
furniture concerns.I am buying furniture from a furniture
company(Debbie Furnitures) and they should have contacted you as
regards my order by now.We are begging you to please help us to
coordinate the payment and delivery of our furniture with the sales
manager of the company that is directly in charge of our order,you
should deduct the amount for the rent and security deposit which is
$12,000,the balance of $4,350 is the costs of my furniture and the
sales manager of the furniture company will contact you and provide
you with instructions on how to get the money to him.They will
embark on the delivery of our furniture on receipt of the
money,though they will be in contact with you to schedule a
delivery time and date that will be convenient for you to accept
the delivery.Please we do apologise for any inconvenience that this
arrangement may cause you,but we will will really appreciate it if
you can help us to settle our furniture concerns so that the
furniture will be delivered before our arrival in your place,and
this will make us to settle in comfortably when we arrive,you can
understand that transiting cross atlantic is not always easy.


Please do let me know if you have heard from Mrs.Debbie T
the sales manager of the furniture company and do let us know the
position of things with you as we are in the process of booking our
seats on a flight to the states.

Once again,we apologise for any stress this issue may cause
you,we are looking up to you to help us out.I will appreciate a
response from you on receipt of this email.

Thank you and God bless
Dr.Dennis Johnson


Dr. Johnson,

My name is -------.  I am  a [profession].  Our address is ------. Phone is ------. 

I will send you the pictures you asked for and the room measurements later this evening.  The bedroom will only need a bed.  The closets and cabinets are all built in so that no other furniture is needed.  I think you will get a better idea from the pictures.

[name omitted]


From: Dennis johnson [mailto:dr.dennisjohnson247@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 6:21 PM
To: [craigslist poster]
Subject: RE: $$$00 / 4br - for rent by owner


Thanks for your mail,i appreciate your wanting to help us in our situation.I am a lawyer i am currently working with Woodstock Pharmacy 24 High St, Woodstock, OX20 1TF, United Kingdom. I will be in the states for the next one year with my daughter and during my stay i will be working with Raymond V.Gilmartin, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Merck &Co "America's Leadership in Pharmaceutical Research work.and he will be handling the rent deposit payment on our behalf,we will instruct him to send you the check for this as soon as you give us the go ahead to make payment to you.  Due to the limited time that we have before our arrival,we are making arrangements with a furniture company to supply the home with furniture,so we will need you to provide us with the measurements of the living room and bedroom so that we can send it to the furniture company so that they can supply the unit with furniture that will fit in well.  As regards the lease agreement,i want you to send it to me for my review,i will eventually have it filled and signed on my arrival in your place as i am of the opinion that such documents are best filled and signed physically.We can start the lease by 10 of Dec  and we will be doing a one year lease although we will not be arriving until the End of Dec.You can prepare the lease in my my name Dr.Dennis johnson    and my wife's name Mrs.Loveth Johnson.  Let us know how to move aheadas we intend to complete this deal before we move in ,we will let you know the exact date as soon as we get a booking on a flight to the states.
I would be needing your contacts details where the payment would be mailed out to in this form  such as the Fullname,Address,City,State,Zipcode and Valid Phone Numbers.
We hope to hear from you soon and We look forward to meeting you soon
           Best Regards,
Dr .Denni Johnson of Woodstock Pharmacy 24 High St, Woodstock, OX20 1TF, United Kingdom


Dear Dr. Johnson,

Yes I am the owner of the house for rent.  It is still available.  The rental is $$$.00 per month; the security is $$$00. The utilities include electricity and gas which come to about $$$0.00 per month.  Water bills average about $$00-$00 per month.  We have Oil heat which averages $$00 per month for the entire year. The house is available as of January 1, 2008. 

Where are you so that I can speak to you on the phone at an appropriate time.  You can call me anytime you wish at our home tel # [---------].

I will send you pictures of the rooms a little later this evening.  If you are still interested, I will be happy to send you a lease. 

[names omitted]


From: Dennis johnson [mailto:dr.dennisjohnson247@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 10:34 AM
To: [craigslist anonymous email address]
Subject: $5500 / 4br - Dream House for rent by owner


** Avoid: wiring money, cross-border deals, work-at-home
** Beware: cashier checks, money orders, escrow, shipping
** More Info: http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams.html

        I come across your apartment advertised on the internet and i am interested in renting it,please let me know if it is still available.I will be signing one year lease for this unit and will be staying with my wife and daughter, and will be willing to offer you 2 months rent plus the security deposit in order to secure this unit prior to our arrival. Could you be kind enough to let me know what the electricity/utility cost would be ?as i will really need to have this unit to myself. You can send me the lease application , to enable be review it ahead of time.i would eventually have it signed physically when i arrive.In my opinion, appending signatories should be done properly and at best physically.Please , send me a picture view of the living room and bed rooms.
I will like you to send me pictures of the living rooms and
bedrooms of the apartment,so that I can see what it looks like since I
wont be able to see the apartment before my arrival and I will like to
know how much it will cost for the monthly,
utilies bills such,
per month rent cost
Security deposit cost
water bill
electricy bill
gas billmeasurements of the rooms
i needed to know if you really the owner of the apartment ,
    This is an international situation .With this arrangement, my financier in the states,will be
effecting your payment deposit to you.I believe we can work together and ensure every arrangements that we shall both execute in line with my taking up the tenancy should be done accordingly to ensure we have a proper understanding. In view of my work schedule, i would want us to finalise basic arrangements. I will arrive to the states by 30th  of December with my wife and daughter.If you require any specific information, pls let me know or you can call me on my cell phone +44 703 191 0267,please dial as presented for international calls .
      I will really appreciate a quick response to my enquiry.
Dr.Dennis Johnson