The Worst Apartment Deal in Town

1202492920A tip for apartment-hunters on Craigslist: If you find a place that sounds remarkably affordable, but the landlord is out of town and wants to set up a complicated method of getting you the keys, say no. Especially if the landlord says his name is Louis Pontecorvo. Say no right now. It’s a scam.

Lauren, a Boston Daily tipster, stumbled upon the trick while looking for an apartment in the area. Via Craigslist, she found a promising one in Cambridge. It’s $1,300, utilities included, spacious and clean. She e-mailed the landlord, who seemed unusually amenable: He’d rent it furnished or unfurnished, pets are allowed, the unit comes with parking spaces. She, of course, was thrilled—but then things got weird.

The landlord said he was in London, and he wanted to set up a complicated method in which she’d put up an undisclosed amount of money. Then he’d send her the keys so she could check out the apartment.

This is an advance-fee scam. The scammer offers something of value, but in order to get it, the target must first put some money up front. Its most popular form, that of desperate Africans claiming to need your help to recover large financial fortunes, are called Nigerian 419 scams, and a local psychotherapist lost a bundle in one.

In retrospect, the local scammer (who, considering the writing skills displayed in his e-mails, might very well be in Nigeria) was obviously untrustworthy: He says he owns an apartment at 100 Landsdowne St. in Cambridge, but there’s a luxury apartment building at that address, so all rentals would go through its management company, Forest City, and not an individual owner.

But when you’re desperate for an apartment and you find an offer as good as this, it’s easy to overlook the obvious. Luckily, our tipster did some Googling and found this scam described elsewhere. For the sake of future Googlers, here’s the full e-mail exchange (sics implied) about the Cambridge apartment:

——————–

From: Lauren
To: Louis Pontecorvo

Subject: apartment for rent.

Hi, I am writing in regards to your posting on craigslist for the apartment for rent. I am currently living in New York, but moving to Boston in the next few weeks. Is your apartment available immediately? Also, how close to the T is it?

Thanks so much for any information!

Lauren

——————–

From: Louis Pontecorvo

To: Lauren
Subject: apartment for rent.

Hi,

The apartment is available now, flexible lease, i am the owner, 5th floor, elavator, fully furnished, i can rent it unfurnished too, all the utilities are included ( water, garbage, electricity, heat..etc). Pets are allowed. I am renting the whole apartment for $1,300 per month. I am asking for 2 month’s rent payment plus 1/2 month as security deposit, this is a total of $3,250. If my terms are ok with you please reply back, if you have questions please free to ask. Here are pictures: http://pictures.aol.com/galleries/pontecorvolouis

Address:
100 Landsdowne St.
Cambridge, MA 02139

Thank you.
Louis Pontecorvo

——————–

From: Lauren
To: Louis Pontecorvo
Subject: apartment for rent.

Hi Louis, thank you so much for your note. I am extremely interested in your apartment. I would love to set up a time that i can come look at the apartment.

How many square feet is the apartment? the second bedroom is really what i am curious about- is it comparable to the bedroom shown in your photos? Is the apartment in a quiet area?

Please let me know if we can set up a time to meet, or if i can arrange a time with my aunt to see the apartment.

I appreciate your time.
Lauren

——————–

From: Louis Pontecorvo
To: Lauren
Subject: apartment for rent.

Hi again,

Just a few more info. Equal size-2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, 1,150 sq. ft., washer/dryer in unit, A/C, dishwasher, parking–2 spots included in the rent, safe neighborhood, nice neighbors, very quiet, no noise, close to transportation and everything else. It’s fully furnished, but i can rent it unfurnished also, same price if unfurnished, will use a moving company. As i said pets are allowed. Building has maintenance. The lenght of the lease is flexible: long/short term. I have to tell you that i am in London, UK, i am here with a job contract for 5 years, i am in my first year now, i come to Cambridge every 6 months for 3 or 4 days and if you rent the apartment i will stay to a hotel. If you want to see the apartment i would need your address where the keys to be fedex-overnight to you, we will talk about the payment process for the $3,250 and about the other details, but, first, if there is somethig else that you want to know please feel free to ask.

Thank you.
Louis

——————–

From: Lauren
To: Louis Pontecorvo
Subject: apartment for rent.

Hi louis, this all sounds great, I’d really like to come see the apartment, is there someone there that can show it to me while you are away?

Lauren

——————–

From: Louis Pontecorvo
To: Lauren
Subject: apartment for rent.

This is quite a long e-mail ,so, plese read it slowly and with attention, read it twice if you have to, i tried to explain the best as i could my proposal and things to be as clear as possible.

So, i am having second thoughts, i am not feeling comfortable just sending you the keys, sorry, nothing personal. I have noone there to show you the apartment because my parents are in France since i was 24 and my best friend is out of state.

I’ve contacted a company named Century21. Their website is www.century21.com. They are a well known company in US and all over the world, they have offices all over the world, they have an office in London, UK too. So, i went to their office in London and i told them that i have an apartment in US and i want to rent it and they told me that they have a service i can use, i will describe it below. I accepted it, paid the fees and now all is needed is a possible tenant.

So, here is how it goes: first you must agree using the company, then I will contact the Century21 company and let them know you agreed using them, then they will send you an e-mail with all the instructions about how to proceed with the transaction, you then must send the money to the company, they put the money in their trust account, then i have to send you the keys, your monry will be held there until after viewing, along with the keys i will fedex the proof of ownership and a leasing contract (it’s a normal, standard contract), i will use FedEx-overnight and will provide the tracking number to you and to Century21, you will have 5 days to go and see the apartment, if you decide to rent it you have to sign the lease, fedex-overnight it to me–keep a copy for yourself, notify Century21 that you accepted the apartment and they will release the money to me, if you dislike the apartment you have to notify Century21 and they will fully refund you, when you have the money in hands you will have to FedEx me the keys and provide me the tracking # (i pay the fees), you will also have to provide the tracking # to Century21 so they can track it too, when i receive the keys i will notify Century21 that i received it and the transaction is ended. The next step is to give me the OK to start this up with them and they’ll contact you.

Giving the circumstances i am sure you understand that this is the best way to handle the transaction. I am sure you’re asking why would you deposit any money before seeing the apartment, but, again, under the circumstances this is the best way. Anyway, your money will be safe with Century21 and will be refunded if you decide not to rent the apartment.

I do not want to use a Century21 agent to show you the apartment or to whom you could give the money to because will involve

realtor/broker fees and the fees are $2,600 which is huge. The service i’ve proposed above is much cheaper and i’ve paid the fees already. Let me know your decision. Let me know please what you decide. E-mail me ASAP.

Thank you
Louis

——————–

This is where she bailed. And rightfully so.

  • Cambridge Resident

    DUH.

    Is this really worth writing about?

    Why not write about the other 12,204 scams on Craigslist? Or about your spam mail that says “get a bigger p3n1s.

    This is retarded.

  • Julie

    “But he spelled the name wrong (it’s Lansdowne),”

    Uh, no it isn’t. The one in Cambridge has a D, the one in Boston does not.

    Glad Lauren bailed, though.

  • Jason Feifer

    Julie: Good call, my bad. Shows how much time I’m spending on Landsdowne Street. The post has been amended. Thanks.

  • Emma

    Other alias’s for this same scam are:

    Tiner Fia (Tiner_Fia@yahoo.com)
    JoAnn Rinaggio (rcherif16@yahoo.ca)

    Both sent me essentially the same email in the same day which is the only reason I was able to get wise to the scam.

  • Meredith

    Almost got fooled by one in Philly. email is dirsanna@aol.com. “Anna Dickerson”. Be Ware. Glad this article was written…too good to be true usually is. Boo!

  • Sarah

    Or Kathleen Eastwood

  • http://www.clemmermoving.com/ Philadelphia Movers

    Very clever scam, I hadn’t seen this before. Glad she recognized it for being kind of shady and bailed. It’s too bad people actually fall for these, though.