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University students scammed by fake apartment subleasers

Scammers most frequently use The Marshall apartments in Dinkytown for fake advertisements.
A view outside The Marshall apartment complex in Dinkytown on June 3.
Image by Easton Green
A view outside The Marshall apartment complex in Dinkytown on June 3.

More students are succumbing to housing scams as the University of Minnesota’s rental market tightens.

Scammers posted fake subleasing advertisements on Craigslist and in unofficial University housing groups on Facebook, targeting students who use the sites to find housing.

University Student Legal Services attorney Bill Dane said housing scams are growing more common.

The Marshall apartments in Dinkytown are most frequently used by scammers.

Students respond to the ad, Dane said, and are then “induced to send the first month’s rent and the deposit … with the understanding that they now [have] a place.”

Students are relieved to find housing in the ‘tight’ rental market around the University, he said.

Most students don’t realize they’ve been scammed until they arrive for move-in.

“They’re finding out when they get to campus with the expectation that they’ve got a place to live,” Dane said. “And then they get here, and they have nothing. It’s a mess.”

Taylor Brandl, leasing and marketing manager for The Marshall, said apartment management can’t help students affected by scams because they weren’t involved in the transaction.

Brandl said students should go to property management to confirm the sub-leaser is an actual tenant. 

“If you’re not going through our leasing office, then you’re not going to have a unit,” she said.

Dane said students’ money is practically irretrievable once sent to a scammer.

“All of a sudden, the money is gone,” he said. Scammers request the money to be sent through services that don’t have the capability to cancel transactions, like PayPal.

“You can’t even identify the real parties, let alone sue them to get the money back,” Dane said.

USLS recently worked with a student who was caught in an apartment scam. Dane said the student “would have lost twice as much money” if USLS hadn’t caught it beforehand. 

The fake lease USLS saw was well-drafted, he said. The scammer likely acquired a real lease from The Marshall and crafted the fake based on it.

International students are often victims of scams because “they’re not able to do the leg-work before they arrive,” Dane said. Students from the U.S. can physically bring a lease to a property’s management to have it verified, while international students can’t.

University of Minnesota Police Department Lieutenant Chuck Miner said scammers target international students because they aren’t accustomed to local housing processes.

“Predators don’t think they know the system as well,” Miner said, but added scams can happen to anyone.

Dane said the fake lease USLS saw this year could have fooled even a student from the U.S. USLS can assist students with leasing problems and questions, he added. 

“If it kind of feels wrong, then start asking questions,” Dane said.

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