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If it’s too good to be true… How I Almost Got Scammed

How I almost got scammed in housing

I was almost scammed today. Last week, I made inquires about available housing on the coast. After finding out that I wasn’t eligible for a loan because I’m an entrepreneur and the rules changed two years ago to make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to get home loans, I started looking at rental properties. I sent out multiple emails and made several calls. Rental agencies didn’t get back to me. The one that I was able to get on the phone said he had a one-year waitlist for one-bedroom apartments and a three-year waitlist for three bedrooms. I contacted more places and received the same sound of silence.

Could This Be God’s Answer?

Yesterday, one of the rentals I applied to, through Craigslist, got back to me. A three-bedroom house in Newport for $1000 a month. That’s about $300 less than the rental we were looking at in Salem. The place is furnished and ready for move-in. I would’ve booked it immediately, but the person “renting” it wanted more information. I told her again that my cat, my wife and I would be the only ones living there, and it’s been my wife’s lifelong dream to live near the beach. This place was perfect for us. It wasn’t commercial, but it was cheaper than we expected and in one of the towns on our shortlist.

The Inconsistencies

The “homeowner” sent me a new questionnaire asking for my name, phone number, number of people, and how long I would like to live there. I sent her that information. Today, I received the AirBnB form to rent the place. There were a couple of inconsistencies with the email. In the second email, she said she was living in Ogden, Utah, so wouldn’t be able to meet with us to hand over the keys. In the third email, she said she would make a trip out to sign the paperwork and hand over the keys. That’s not outside the realm of possibilities, so okay.

The “homeowner” had three different emails. The first one was from outlook. The next two were from “sodierominfirm.com” and “viromsindrrfirm.com.” Neither of those two make sense, and their corresponding websites didn’t exist – at least I couldn’t find them.

I looked up the “homeowner’s name” and found that there is a Kristi Gilbert who lives in Ogden and owns a company; there may even be more than one Kristi Gilbert in Ogden, so it wasn’t much help. I looked up the ownership records on the property; it was an 80-year-old man with a different last name. Again, maybe she was the daughter and managed the property for him. Maybe, I was just being paranoid.

Logging into AirBnB

The emails from “AirBnB” looked legitimate enough, with their “No reply” in the name. I clicked on the link. It took me to a checkout page. I logged in, using my password, and my email showed up in the log in area. That didn’t seem right, but this could be our dream location at a great price. I clicked on the next button and put in my name, address, email and phone number. Something didn’t feel right, so I right clicked on the AirBnB logo in the upper left corner. It took me to the same check out page. I clicked on some of the other links, but they didn’t seem to go anywhere. I clicked on the pay now link. The next page only had two options to pay – both were labeled “One Vanilla.”

I Scream (into the Void)

One Vanilla is apparently a gift card that you can buy in $500 amounts. I needed to purchase two of them to leave a deposit for the property, which I haven’t seen. I only used AirBnB a long time ago, and this didn’t seem right. Maybe, they changed policies. I decided to try a new tack. I went to the AirBnB website, found their help chat, and sent them a message. “Is this offer legitimate?” with a link to the offer. Within five minutes, AirBnB told me it wasn’t made through them. They didn’t use the word “scam,” but I did. They reported the information internally.

But their verification of the scam wasn’t enough for me. There was, and is, a part of me that wants to believe that this was all a misunderstanding. There’s a part of me that wants to contact the user behind the email to say “Sorry, AirBnB says your offer isn’t legit.” I don’t owe that person anything, but I still don’t want my dream to be killed by him/her. God, how could I fall so far for a scam? Worse, why does a part of me still want to believe that it’s real?

Don’t Get Scammed

I don’t know the answers to those questions, exactly. I know that there’s a psychological issue between conmen and the people they con. Typically, people who have been conned don’t want to discuss it and will actually recommend the conman to their friends and family. I also know that we can be emotionally vulnerable to a con that, under different circumstances, wouldn’t tempt us. What I do know is that I can be conned, and I don’t want anyone else to fall for what I almost did, or anything similar.

Here some advice that I always need to remind myself of:

  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are occasions when someone nice is just making an offer to help, but they are few and far between. It’s always best to “trust, but verify.”
  • People aren’t always nice. People aren’t always evil either, but you need to be on the lookout for those who are selfish enough to lie, cheat and swindle to get what they want or to make sure that you don’t get what you want.
  • It’s not my fault. I want to believe that there are good people in the world; I know some of them. It’s okay to be trusting. However, you need to either, only give what you don’t care about losing, or you need to verify what the person is offering is actually on offer. If you’re going to complain about giving something to someone, don’t give it to them. It’s not worth the emotional turmoil or headspace.

In this particular case and with Internet offers, always verify the source. Sometimes, that’s difficult to do. I spent two hours this morning trying to convince myself the housing offer was genuine – some of that was even after AirBnB told me it wasn’t. There are a lot of small businesses, house rentals, and Etsy store owners out there that can use your patronage to survive (us included). However, you need to do your best to support your trusting nature through diligent research that doesn’t feed your confirmation bias. Google the name of the “homeowner,” Google the address and find out who owns it, and then contact the website they are using as their funding mechanism. Do not use the links or chat options they provide. Use your own search engine.

Dreams Crushed

When something unlikely happens, religious people like to say that God was looking out for them. Some people like to say they got lucky. However, this is a case where I thought God was answering my prayers. Fortunately, I didn’t use that as my sole judgement on whether or not I should proceed with sending the “homeowner” $1,000.

As I look to the future, I realize that because I can’t qualify for a home loan, I will be spending the next year paying to make someone else rich. I will lose at least $14,000, which over the course of 15 years would be enough to buy a condo, and I won’t have anything to show for it but a roof over my head for 12 months. Unless things change fiscally for the better over the next year, I will be forced again to spend that much money and probably more, and again the year after that. Every year, it’s money thrown away without the benefits of future stability, receiving anything in return, or living where we want. It’s disheartening, but it’s the way the system is, and I don’t know how to change it.

Still, there’s always hope, I guess. Maybe I’ll become YouTube or Internet rich. Maybe one of my books will suddenly sell a hundred thousand copies, or maybe, I’ll get a thousand supporters at my Patreon. I’ll just keep pulling that Internet one-armed bandit and hope to come up cherries (while also trying to find employment that will help me get ahead, which means a minimum of $8 an hour full-time for rent alone and $23 an hour if we follow the 35% rule. We still don’t know what food and utilities are going to cost us.)

Be on you guard, watch for scams, and help when you can. We’ll be fine. Thank you for reading.

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