Apartment hunting is hard in any city, more so in a city like Boston, where costs are high and you have a whole milieu of brokers and middlemen to deal with. Add to it the fact that you are doing a remote search of your perfect home and you can see why it can be a herculean task. It took me about a month to find a place I actually liked and another couple of weeks to finalize it.
The apartment search in the US mostly goes something like this. You sign up on various apartment listing websites, join apartment and roommate search groups and obsessively scan Craigslist. You add various filters such as price and location and hit enter. You check out the various listings it throws up, go page by page and save some search results. In the process you realize that cozy means so small that you will practically live in a closet and few blocks away from the T station can mean at least a 15-20 minute walk. But, you are desperate, so you need to try everything. Next, you contact the email ids or phone numbers listed. Some respond, some don't. Meanwhile, you realize that there are some listings where the same apartment has been advertised by a dozen different brokers. This is when things start to get murky. You are utterly confused about where this will lead.
For one such listing that offered a studio apartment for a slightly lower price than average, I got a pretty prompt response to my email inquiry. The email mentioned that they wanted the security deposit upfront and the key would be delivered to my then current address within a week after that. It also mentioned that the apartment was owned by a hearing disabled person and therefore any phone conversation was out of the question. All this seemed particularly shady. I realized there was someone taking the crutch of disability and trying to earn my trust and sympathy. And, I had never heard of a key being delivered to someone without any interview for something that would be leased for an entire year. All this was definitely a red flag.
Another listing, this time on a Facebook group for apartment listings offered a one bedroom flat for the cost of a studio apartment in a prime location. The person who posted the listing had a profile picture and a few hundred friends and seemed legitimate. But, what bothered me was the low price for this beautiful apartment. Upon inquiry, this too mentioned that the security deposit was to be paid upfront and that many others were interested and I needed to act fast to secure it. But, the person stopped replying to my messages as soon as I asked to be shown the place. Thus, another red flag discovered.
I finally did find a place I liked. It was reasonably priced in the same range as the average market rate, but had to be rented through a broker. The broker though seemed legitimate as he offered to show me the place upfront before demanding any deposits. This was definitely a positive sign. And so, lesson learnt. Rental scamming is a real thing and people come up with real creative ways to do it.