Craigslist ads scam two Union County couples

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Craigslist, the popular classifieds website, is back in the negative spotlight, this time involving two Union County couples seeking apartments on the popular internet site.

Linden police took in two reports from both a Linden couple and Elizabeth couple, who were scammed out of nearly $5,000 in cash, collectively, while answering a bogus ad for a Linden apartment.

In the first incident, the young Elizabeth couple paid $2,650 in cash for two months’ rent and a lease agreement for an apartment on Cedar Avenue to a man named “Marcos.” When they began the process of moving in with the key they were given, the key did not work. Attempts to reach Marcos were unsuccessful and they were unable to contact him. Officers were able to contact the property owner, who stated that he had not offered any apartment for rent.

While at the scene, officers were approached by a second couple from Linden, who told them that they, too, had signed a lease agreement and had paid $2,200 in cash as a security deposit for the same apartment that they had found on Craigslist. According to the couple, they had met with a woman earlier this month named “Mirna,” who took their money and had them sign a lease agreement.

Linden Police Capt. James Sarnicki spoke with LocalSource about the incidents. “Police warn residents to be cautious of this scam where cash deposits are requested up front before inspecting the property, and prospective tenants should ask to see documentation that the landlord is the actual owner of the property — check a tax bill or utility receipt,” said Sarnicki. “Also, ask to see identification from the landlord, such as a photo driver license, etc.”

Craigslist warns visitors to the site about potential scammers and offers some tips.

“Deal locally, face-to-face — follow this one rule and avoid 99 percent of scam attempts,” says Craigslist. Other tips include not extending payments to anyone you have not met in person, caution with offers involving shipping, and never wiring funds. In addition, people are cautioned to never accept cashier’s or certified checks or money orders, or give out financial information such as bank account, social security, or PayPal account numbers. Renters should never rent sight-unseen, and background checks should never be agreed to unless you have met a landlord or employer in person.