THE BLOG

How I Fell for an Awful Craigslist Rental Scam and What I Should Have Done Differently

03/11/2014 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2014

When something is too good to be true, it probably is. I know you've probably heard that before, but no words could be truer -- especially when it comes to renting in New York.

It's difficult for me to write this, because in doing so I'm admitting that I was the victim of an elaborate con. You should've known better. Why didn't you question that? How could you have fallen for it? I've already heard it all, so don't even bother. I beat myself up everyday over how I ignored the warning signs, didn't trust my instincts and chose instead to put my faith in someone I met through Craigslist.

Let me be clear: Craigslist is not to blame. I've heard several fairytale stories about how renters have found amazing roommates or lucky breaks on the site. I'm not saying it's bad, as a whole. There are just a lot of people peddling steaming piles of shit.

Now, from the beginning: I needed to vacate my apartment by Jan. 31 and my housing situation fell through at the last minute. I had enough funds in my savings to front the massive initial deposit, but I was hesitant to lock myself into a year-long lease -- especially since the situation with my preferred roommates had fallen through. So I instead opted for a short sublet and began scouring Craigslist and other sites for something that would work in a pinch.

That's when I met Kim. We arranged a meeting to see her apartment on E. 9th St. I liked the space. She was friendly, personable and great at small talk. She provided just enough details about her life to draw me in without saying too much to make me question the specifics. We hit it off right away and I thought I had lucked into a great situation at the precise time I desperately needed one.

I was wrong.

It wasn't long after I had met with Kim's "landlord," Michael Bryant, signed the sublease, and paid first and last month's rent that I began to question the decision I had just made. Sure there were some potential red flags along the way, but that could just be me overanalyzing the situation, right? I wanted so badly to trust humanity -- to believe that this was just kismet, and could only happen in New York.

But, just to be sure I checked the keys to make sure they worked shortly after I signed the sublease. They worked. My concerns were allayed. That feeling in the pit of my stomach must have just been a fluke. I laughed off my friend's comments that I was paranoid and crazy. This was my new apartment and it had all worked out.

Until I realized the truth.

When I tried following up with Kim and the "landlord" to discuss the apartment, I realized both of their phones were turned off. They were unreachable. So I started doing some research -- something I should have done from the beginning. I learned there was no Michael Bryant. And Kim was not renting the apartment. The actual landlord did not grant anyone permission to put an ad on Craigslist and was not renting any of the apartments. In fact, she had changed the keys because someone had complained that they had been subjected to a sublease scam in the building.

My worst fears were confirmed. Kim and Michael were in the wind, and I was left holding keys to an apartment I had no claim to. I had been swindled, and there was nothing I could do.

Well, not exactly. I could report the con to the local NYPD precinct and file a flurry of complaints with federal, state and city authorities. As it turns out, "Kim" and "Michael" -- or "Emma" and "David" -- had pulled this con before. They had already duped several young 20-something women out of more than $20,000 around the East Village. I was their ninth victim to come forward.

My stomach dropped. Now, there was nothing I could do. I had handed over all my information to the police, and the case was in their hands. There could be legal claims to come, but first they need to track down the two cons.

It's more than a month later, and this chain of events still keeps me up at night. I question how I could have been so dumb to trust a total stranger. I should have stopped and done what I'm trained to do as a journalist -- my research. But I didn't. I was caught up in the con, and the fantasy that I could find an awesome, affordable apartment the day after I lost one.

To say I've learned my lesson would be an understatement. I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about Internet crime, consumer fraud, grand larceny, and how to run a sublet scam.

But, most importantly, I've learned what it feels like to be on the wrong side of a con. So I write this now to warn others -- whether they be naïve newbies, or overly trusting long-time residents -- to listen to your gut. If a rental situation seems the slightest bit shady, question everything. Don't let anything or anyone pressure you -- whether it's an impeding move date or the fear that you won't get that apartment.

There is always another apartment. There is always another solution. Just don't overlook the warning signs and ignore your gut because you're caught up in the moment. In the end, you always lose.