House for rent! Observing an Overpayment Scam

Published: 2011-10-19
Last Updated: 2011-10-31 16:14:49 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 1)
4 comment(s)

About a month ago, my wife posted a "House for Rent" ad on Craigslist. (real nice house in a great area btw... in case someone is moving to Jacksonville ;-) ). A couple responses came in, among them, one from a person in England. Odd, but there are actually a couple British living in the neighborhood, so she responded:

From: C M [*** names altered ***]
Subject: Rent Inquiry
Hello - 
  I'm inquiring about the rental property, I will like to get some more details about the property,
I'll like you to give me the below detail ...
[*** questions about property ***]
Certainly not a native speaker of English (the questions I omitted where normal questions someone would have about a house. Cost, when will it be available, utilities included, address...). Some where answered already in the Craigslist ad, but ok. If you deal with prospective tenants, that isn't unusual. As this point, we didn't know that we dealt with someone who isn't local.
My wife's response:
From: H
Subject: your inquire about ...

Hi C

thanks for your interest. Please see the answers to your detailed questions below. 
Please feel free to call my cell phone *** if you would like to see the property 
in person

... answers to questions removed ....
And another email from the prospective renter. Again, sort of routine questions. At this point, the renter identifies he lives in England:
From: C M

Subject: Re: your inquire about ...

Hello H -

      Thanks for your respond, firstly I would want you to know that the property 
is OK with me and I would like to rent the property. I will be staying in the 
property for 1 year after which I will extend my contract on the property if OK 
with my need. 

I work with '*** ENGINEERING LIMITED' in England as a CNC 5 axis machining centre 
setter/operator/programmer and I'm on transfer to the USA. 

I will be moving with my wife, I'd like to know how far is the place from bus station, 
police station and gas station. 

At this point I want you to know that my company will handle the first month 
and the deposit which is ($2470) after which other payment for the property will 
be handle by me in person. 

I would also want you to know that all application and lease papers will be sign 
by me in person when I arrive. 

If this is OK with you, kindly send me the following details listed below ...

'Full Name that will be on the check'
'Mailing Address where you can receive the check'
'Home Phone'
'cell phone'

Once I receive these details from you, I'll send it to my employer, so that the
payment can be issued out to you immediately. We'll be moving in on the 1st of 
November 2011. Looking forward to your reply.

Best Regards


my wife responded (PO Box address she uses for the rental business, and she did not provide a home phone number). This was WAY too easy. A person being so fast signing up for a house unseen? We must have been too cheap!

And a few days later, the check arrived:


The check was written in the name of a person that is listed as an accountant / notary public in the town of Temecula, but the number I found is now used by a different company. The bank, Temecula Valley Bank, failed in July 2009 ( and has since been acquired by First Citizens. It is not clear if the check would be honored (if it would be real). We didn't try to cash it.

It didn't take long to find out why we got such a "generous" check. First month rent + depost was only around $2,000. Instaed, we got almost $7,000!! An e-mail arrived essentially the same day the check arrived, apologizing for the overpayment, asking us to split the overpayment and send it via Western Union to two different addresses in the UK.

Luckily no damage has been done to us. I am still trying to figure out if the person named as origin of the check actually exists and got harmed. I have no reason to believe that this person, if they exist, are aware or profiting from this scan. We did report this to .

According to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 3.6% of the complaints relate to overpayment fraud. 


Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D.
SANS Technology Institute

Keywords: advance fee scam
4 comment(s)


I had a similar email, but in regards to renting my "track facility" (which I don't have). More on topic a friend of mine received an overpayment for a bike he was selling in the form or a check from a legit company and the "buyer" asked for the overpayment to be sent back. Seems as if the checks are being stolen before they are delivered, or an insider is making them.
Six years ago, when I posted an ad on looking for a room mate, I got several similar e-mails from people claiming to be in England. Some things have not changed.
This is a new flavor of a very old scam (going on five or eight years old now). It's been seen more commonly in the automotive and motorcycle sales areas. The standard process is that the 'buyer' sends a check for thousands of dollars more than the vehicle's sale price, and the 'buyer' asks you to ship the vehicle to an address overseas, then refund the difference to them. In that case, you not only send them several thousand dollars but your vehicle as well. The check is drawn on an empty account on an actual overseas bank, so that your local lender 'times out' after 3-5 days and says the check cleared, but 30 days later the overseas bank confirms the money was never there. It leaves the seller on the hook for the overdraft, since the seller wrote a large check, and the money for the deposit bounced. There have been several people hurt by this scam, especially since it makes their local bank represent to the seller that the *fraudulent* check was good. The fraud exploits the slow timing of overseas transactions and the inability to sue / pursue fraud from overseas.
I posted an ad for an apartment on craiglist as well and I just received this EXACT same email. It is strange because it is slightly different from other scam emails I have received in the past from people claming they are from England and want to rent the place. Thanks so much for posting this, because now I know for sure it is a scam and don't need to wonder!

Diary Archives