Daily News Scribe Tells Tale Of Uptown Apartment Scam

Published on http://www.nydailynews.com Monday, June 9, 2014 by Jan Ransom,

This week I stumbled upon the uptown pad of my dreams: a $1,100 one-bedroom on Fifth Ave. near 104th St., across from the glittering green of Central Park. But, the ad seemed to0 good to be true, and it was.

It seemed my apartment hunting days were over.

This week I stumbled upon the uptown pad of my dreams: a posh, $1,100 one-bedroom on Fifth Ave. near 104th St., across from the glittering green of Central Park.

The rent included electricity, wireless Internet, digital TV and a washing machine, the owner, who called herself Eloise Harper and said she was from London, wrote in an email. Photos showcased a cozy, sunny flat equipped with gleaming appliances and hardwood floors.

Everything about the ad smelled fishy.

Harper, who was listing the place on apartable.com, asked me to pay one month’s rent and said the rent would be paid directly to her bank account.

“I’ve hired a major real estate company specialized in international rentals, to represent me,” she wrote, naming a site called realtor.com and outlining a procedure for me to visit the apartment after she received my deposit.

Of course, there was the affordable rent. The average one-bedroom flat near Central Park rents for $3,200, according to trulia.com, and Harper was asking almost 66% less.

Then, there was the address, 1225 Fifth Ave., which did not appear in city records. That’s because it doesn’t exist — I found that out by visiting the block.

Daily News reporter Jan Ransom at the corner of 104th Street and Fifth Avenue

A customer service representative at realtor.com , a reputable website that lists homes and apartments across the country, told me they do not transfer money or act as an intermediary, and said the ad was a scam. Police caution apartment hunters to beware of bogus brokers.

Two unsuspecting victims were scammed out of thousands of dollars this year in East Harlem, said Capt. Thomas Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct.

A 47-year-old woman was cheated out of $2,000 in March after she agreed to rent an apartment on 130th St. near Lenox Ave. that she found on Craigslist, Harnisch said. The phony agent told the woman she could move in May 1, but by then someone was renting the pad, he said.

Similarly, a 24-year-old woman told cops last month she was duped out of $2,410 in February. She was shown a third floor apartment on 116th St. near Lexington Ave. by a man posing as an agent, Harnisch said. The woman agreed to move in on March 12, but someone was already living there.

It’s shouldn’t come as a surprise that such scams are becoming more common, given the scarcity of affordable apartments.

In Brooklyn, Ronald Johnson, 36, was convicted on May 27 after police said he posed as a broker and stole thousands of dollars from naïve apartment hunters. Johnson faces up to 15 years in jail for a litany of felony charges.

As for me, the hunt goes on. I’ll keep pushing until I find my perfect pad. I’m willing to go for broke… but I won’t go for broker.

Here’s what brokers and cops say you need to do to avoid falling prey to a real estate scam:

*Be sure the broker is legit

Ask to see the agent’s license. You can verify the license online with the state Division of Licensing Services and check site like Yelp to see what others are saying about the broker.

*Speak to the building owner or manager to verify that a unit is for rent.

*Protect your pockets.

If an agent or landlord asks for money too soon, it could be a scam.

*Shop Craigslist with extreme caution.

Brokers recommend nakedapartments.com and renthop.com.

*Beware of geographic distance.

If an owner claims to be out of the country or somewhere far away from the property, proceed with extreme caution.

*If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

*Report suspicious come-ons to police, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov.