48 hours ago, I arrived in Los Angeles ready to take on 17 days of carlessness, Oscar talk, warm weather and Baja Fresh take out. It was all supposed to go down with the bonus of having my own LA apartment, which I had subleted via craigslist a few weeks ago. A fellow Canadian was coming to LA for roughly the same period of time, so we jointly bragged that we found a total steal in paying $800 for what looked like a fabulous West Hollywood pad, complete with a pool, a fitness center and the pleasure of a lot of stuff actually being within walking distance. But shortly after our cab dropped us off in front of our alleged apartment building, this quickly and horribly turned out not to be the case. That’s right, we had become the victims of a craigslist scam, which turned our LA arrival into a nightmarish mix of lugging our bags back and forth through the city, desperate e-mails and texts to anybody we could possibly think of that might be able to take us in, and the embarrassing reality that we had just prominently exemplified the Canadian stereotype of being naive and overtrusting of strangers.
To quickly set up how the situation came to be: Two weeks ago, I went ape shit on craigslist ads for short term sublets. The best response I got was from a woman named “Carla Marie.” After about 20 e-mails back and forth, me & “Carla” had agreed that I was the perfect tenant because I was in New York and could come and meet her to sign a sublet agreement, go over the details and pay her – in cash. For those of you thinking I’m a total idiot for not suspecting anything, let me just make note, “Carla” gave me a bunch of references to e-mail (which, yes, she could have and obviously did just make up), even adding in little tidbits about a new TV:
You may contact email@example.com who stayed with us for a week
around Xmas, and then firstname.lastname@example.org also stayed with us
last October (if you ask for specifics he may say there was no TV at
the apartment, which is true, but we have a brand new one now).
The contact will be sent today.
Can I assume you are taking the place?
She sent her son (an alleged Columbia University student in his late 20s/early 30s) to meet me outside the indieWIRE offices in New York last week. I brought along a colleague for a second opinion as to how legit he seemed, and was entirely prepared not to take the place if things seemed strange. But he seemed so sincere and non-threatening… He went over the internet password, described in detail how to use the punchcode to get into the building, told us about a woman who lived next door who could help us if there was a problem. I just kept thinking, how could such an elaborate scheme go down for just $800? I texted him numerous times after the exchange went down, and he responded – answering little questions about the place. I figured there was no reason for him to be responding after already getting my money if this was a scam.
I know, I know: I should have checked his ID. I should have called the building to ensure “Carla” was a tenant. I should have got someone in LA to go check it out. Believe me, I know. When I arrived at 1274 North Crescent Heights Blvd Thursday evening, I nearly vomited at the fact that I had not done those things.
The first thing that tipped us off, after a cab ride full of jokes about the potential for this happening, was that the punchcode pad that Carla’s son (named “Jason,” by the way) had described in such detail did not exist. We remained calm, searching for other entrances and even going up and down the street to see if somehow the address was wrong and there was another building awaiting us. My friend, who had not dealt with “Carla” or “Jason” at all and had basically trusted me completely in setting this up, thankfully refrained from punching me as it started to become 100% clear: There was no apartment.
The strangest thing, though, was that “Jason” (who I guess is probably also “Carla”) was STILL texting me. But not answering my calls (though the answering machine picked up and had the voice of the man I met last week), saying “he was in the middle of a exam at school” (because Columbia University surely allows texting during exams). He kept asking what I saw around me, and that I was at the wrong building, but never specifying what building I was actually supposed to be at. He told me “Carla” would call immediately and tell me what to do. She did not.
Thankfully, the rental office of 1274 North Crescent Heights Blvd let us in and took serious pity on us (which reminds me, Taneesha of the 1274 North Crescent Heights Blvd rental office, I love you!)… They confirmed that the apartment # didn’t exist and that the keys we had did not belong to this building, and let us print out our correspondence and call the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department from their phone. Three officers arrived in like 15 minutes (impressive, I must say), and took our statement, basically telling us that Craigslist is a giant scam and they deal with this all the time, and that even in the rare case that they catch “Carla” and “Jason,” we’d have to sue them to get our money back. At this point, “Jason” was STILL texting… which boggled the officers as much as it did me. They said it was unlikely they could trace his phone, as its impossible with pay-as-you-go phones which they were surely using.
After they left, we sat in the lobby for a while, desperately trying to find a new plan and trying not to vomit from how horrible this felt, and thankfully due to the help of so many lovely, lovely people, we have ourselves sorted out until Monday (thank you thank you thank you Karina). Though if anyone has suggestions post-Monday, this is where I whore out this blog entry in that regard.
So, yes, very bad way to start off Oscar week in LA. Very, very bad. All thanks to my own private “Catfish,” Carla Marie. Who I realized had actually included a photo of herself amidst the collection of imaginary apartment pictures:
This probably should have tipped me off.