On paper it seems so obvious. Of course you wouldn’t get sucked in by a scam artists promising you super low rates in exchange for wiring a few months rent ahead of time (the catch being the apartment doesn’t exist, and the landlord disappears before you figure out the scheme.)
However, a good friend of mine got sucked in by this latest scam alert from the FBI: Nigerian Online Rental Ad Scams
In my friend’s situation, he was living in Chicago, preparing to move to DC, and he wouldn’t be able to go out to DC before the move to check out apartments. He relied on Craigslist to help his search. He thought he found a sublet in a pretty decent area for not-to-much money. He communicated with the landlord over email for a few weeks before the big move, but when he arrived at the DC address, bags in tow, there was no one to be found. My poor friend was stranded in DC without a place to stay and no idea of what happened to his apartment and landlord. He ended up crashing with a friend for a week or so until he could make other arrangements.
He filed a police report in DC and Chicago, and it turned out that the landlord was based in Chicago, and was pulling this same scam on lots of unsuspecting renters. The Chicago police eventually tracked him down, with the help of my friend, but he never did get back the several months rent he paid up front.
It seemed unavoidable at the time, since my friend couldn’t look at potential apartments in person, but take a look at the story about the Nigerian Online Rental Scam for tips from the FBI on how to protect yourself.