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The Craigslist Vacation Rental Scam

Updated on March 2, 2016

This actually happened to someone I know.

I live in San Diego, CA. Four friends we're going to visit me from Portland, OR for a week. I don't have a huge home with spare rooms for them to stay. Hotel rooms are just...rooms. They decided the best option for that many adults were to find a rental home and stay close by for a week. They cost as much a hotel room and provide much more space.

After doing some online shopping, they found a place on Craigslist. It was reasonably priced (not too-good-to-be-true cheap) and close to where I live so we can hangout. They contacted the owner via email. He gave an address and they searched on Google and found that it was a frequently rented place on AIRBNB with some good reviews.

This was it. They decided to go for it. They sent him money via PayPal, which was their only method of payment. Never actually speaking to him on the phone he sent them instructions to attain the key through a lock box, using spotty English. They flew down to San Diego and Uber'd to the rental place. When they arrived, there was a sign posted on the gate entrance that said, "If you rented this place on Craigslist, you have been scammed, please call the authorities at 800-555-1234"

Of course, they called and reported the incident. It happened to someone from Somalia who made up a onetime use PayPal account. They had already transferred their money out so PayPal couldn't retrieve it. Authorities couldn't do much because the perpetrators were in another country.

Here are the red flags that in hindsight seem obvious:

  1. They never spoke on the phone.
  2. He only accepted PayPal as a method of payment.
  3. The English used in the emails had gross grammatical errors.
  4. Several emails, out of a dozen were sent at strange hours in the day.


Google Maps Neighborhood


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