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The Breakdown:

Housing scams on Craigslist are bilking na´ve househunters out of thousands.

By Curtis Cartier

It works like this: some shady sleazebag copies an expired Craigslist housing ad and reposts it, with a slightly lower price, back on the site. Next, a curious apartment hunter spots the ad and emails the shady sleazebag seeking more info. Now the heist takes place. The apartment hunter receives a long-winded, typo-ridden email from the "landlord" claiming to be a noble volunteer worker helping children in Africa or saving kittens in Asia. The apartment hunter can move in by week's end, the message says, if he or she simply mails a deposit to a crazy address in Nigeria and waits for the house keys to be shipped back.

Most people's bullshit detectors begin buzzing right about the time an anonymous person asks for money up front, but, sadly, some people don't possess that piece of equipment, and they wind up losing several hundred dollars and a boatload of dignity. Police in Santa Cruz and San Jose say the scams have become so prevalent that there are times when a quarter of the housing ads on Craigslist are rip-offs. Santa Cruz Police Spokesman Zach Friend offers simple advice: "If you just remember not to ever send money until you've met with a landlord in person and gotten it in writing, you should be OK." Of course, one argument says anyone dumb enough to wire money to Nigeria for an apartment in Santa Cruz deserves to get ripped off.

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