People Are Trying to For Real Scam You
Quick story. I found the perfect place. It was exactly where I wanted a place to be. It had all of the amenities I wanted, plus a bunch of appliances I didn't even know I wanted, (a chandelier made of magic bullets???). It was clean and spacious and convenient and several hundred dollars cheaper than everything else in the same area. This was in my early days of apartment hunting, so I was excited. The Craigslist ad told me to email the owner, so I did. Momma and Poppa O'Brien did their best to not raise an idiot so, to be on the safe side, I created a new just-in-case-this-is-a-scam hotmail account and used it to ask for more information and, specifically, why the hell this place was so cheap.
Also it looked like this.
The owner responded promptly, explaining that she needed someone to move in quickly, and that the deal was so good because she just couldn't find anybody to take this incredibly sexy place off her, (I imagined), incredibly sexy hands. She then explained that she was moving to England, and she asked if I could just go ahead and wire the money for the security deposit and first month's rent to her through Western Union, just so she knows I'm legit. Then she said that she has no friends in America, so she would just mail me the keys after I wired the money over.
I was, of course, suspicious, because I'm kind of clever, but I didn't immediately know it was a scam, because I'm mostly dumb. I Googled around a bit and realized that she had pulled this scam many, many times. She goes on Craigslist several times a year posting the same pictures and trying to sling the same bullshit story about moving away, just so people will wire her money in exchange for keys that will never come. I was, as you might imagine, frustrated that the perfect apartment didn't exist and I'd wasted a bunch of my time, so I calmly emailed her telling her what kind of shithead she was, (the biggest kind!), and as my final insult, attached a picture of my dick giving her the finger. She has since hacked and subsequently taken over my dummy hotmail account, so I guess we're even?
The point is, when you're searching on Craigslist for an apartment, there's a good chance that if you're looking at something great and wonderful, it's probably a huge hairy scam. Because Craigslist is a... wait, let me do it the right way.
Craigslist Is a Fart
Every problem of modern apartment hunting, (with the exception of everyone hating you), comes down to the very simple "Craigslist is a Fart" principle. I don't know what one is required to have to make a Craigslist ad, but based on what I've seen, I'm going to guess it's "an internet connection" and "most of a keyboard."
You clearly don't need to take some kind of test or give a background check or produce anything that would assure Craigslist that you're a legitimate person offering a legitimate product/service/apartment. You just show up and you get to ask people to give you money for things. That's why modern apartment hunting is such a pain in the ass. If you just Google "apartments in [name of any big city], the only response you'll get will be from rental companies that make you pay for the privilege of knowing what apartments are even available.
None of those links will take you to someone who is genuinely trying to rent an apartment to you, they'll take you to companies who refuse to tell you if there are any apartments available unless you pay them. So, if you're cheap, or if you refuse to pay for a service that you think is fundamentally absurd and unnecessary, (my way of justifying my own cheapness), you're left with Craigslist which, as established, is a fart.
Go to the Apt/housing section of Craigslist, and type in the name of a major city, (Hollywood, Beverly Hills, New York, etc). You'll see a ton of responses, but I guarantee you the breakdown is this: Scams- 30%; Inconvenient Fake Bullshit- 60%; Legitimate Ads- 10%.
"Inconvenient Fake Bullshit" is extra annoying. If you choose "Hollywood" as your location, you expect to get a bunch of listings in Hollywood, but instead you'll end up with dozens and dozens of listings that are 20-30 miles outside of Hollywood. If someone puts the word "Hollywood" in the body of their ad, it'll jump to the front page of Craigslist's apartment results for "Hollywood." And people know this, so someone trying to sell an apartment in Poopshitnowhere will include things like "Great neighborhood, just a few miles from Hollywood" and "Within driving distance of Santa Monica," or sometimes just "Hollywood Los Angeles UCLA LMU Beach Mountains Whole Foods Vacation Parties!" The result for them is that a lot of people will see their ad. The result for you, as a potential tenant, is that you have to sift through page after page of listings for places 30 miles outside of where you're trying to live.
Craigslist Sorting Technology hasn't caught up to this problem yet, so it just happens. They also haven't realized that, if there's nothing in place to stop scammers right from the start, the scammers won't stop. Ever. I have smiling, American money that I would like to hand someone in exchange for a convenient place to live/poop/put my things, but instead I end up ducking scams and wasting time driving to crappy apartments that post misleadingly-attractive pictures, because 90% of landlords learned everything they know about advertising from fourteen-year-old girls on Myspace. Not everything needs to be a hassle and a scam, but apartment hunting certainly is.
This, I propose, is due to general fartiness, somewhere on the administrative level of Craigslist.