How I got Bamboozled Into Wiring $1,400 to Kenya

We had a lease agreement! The house was adorable! What were the odds?

Photo credit: Photo-Mix, CC0 Public Domain

Picture this: You’ve decided to move in with one of your friends, and she sends you a listing for the perfect little house. It’s an adorable blue color, it’s in the right neighborhood, and it’s affordable? What are the odds?

You’re skeptical, but you’re distracted by other pressing issues in your life, so you get wrapped up in your friend’s enthusiasm. You trust her judgment since she’s more familiar with the marketplace — she owns a condo after all.

“When can we go see the house?” you ask.

“Well, the owners are out of town, but we can drive by!”

Red flags are hitting you left and right, but you ignore them and keep moving forward. It turns out that the owners are out of the country, but they’ll send over a contract if you send a deposit.

“I looked them up on Facebook,” your friend assures you. “This is legit.” She reminds you that this is Zillow and not a scam on Craigslist.

There is no lockbox at the house. When you peek inside the windows, it looks like there’s still furniture inside. Everything about this feels wrong and yet here you are, giving your friend $700 to send as a deposit.

If this feels like the script for a Very Special sitcom episode—or worse, a Saturday Night Live sketch—I am here to tell you that this happened to me a few years ago.

Before you ask: no, this didn’t happen when I was fresh out of college as a doe-eyed kid renting her first apartment. I was in my late 20s, I had just moved cross-country on my own, and had started my own business. My friend was the one in her early 20s, but she carried herself with the confidence of a 30-something — for better or worse.

So there I was, giving my friend the money I had scraped together for a security deposit against my better judgment. Then I learned that the “owner” of the house was currently in Kenya. Serious Bugs Bunny cartoon warning bells were going off at this point, and I made the mistake of questioning my friend’s judgment. She assured me that this was legit. She was putting her money in too. Didn’t I trust her?

Of course I trusted her, but I also should have known when to put my foot down. Instead, I put down another $700. When the landlord asked for a money order, I suggested that we send a check instead, because there was still a small amount of common sense holding on in the back of my mind. But we didn’t. The house was perfect and we had already signed a “lease agreement” and it was Zillow, not Craigslist, right? And my friend said it was all fine?

So we ended up sending a money order to Kenya. (Yes, it pains me to type this, even today.)

Our “landlord” told us he would FedEx us the keys to the place on the first day of our lease. For those keeping track, we were out a total of $2,800 at this point. It can’t get any worse, right?

Wrong. When the FedEx failed to show up, I sent an email to our “landlord” accusing him of being in violation of our lease agreement. He replied with a sob story about how his wife was in a car accident that put her the hospital, and he needed more money from us.

I couldn’t believe the email in front of me. He was asking us for more money? I responded firmly, sending my well-wishes to his wife, but asking for our money back. We were going to find another place to live. He emailed back. Then his “wife” emailed, asking for the money. There wasn’t much we could do after that point. We didn’t have much of a legal leg to stand on so we had to swallow our pride and our loss.

We never got our money back, but hey, at least I got a good story out of it. Or at least that’s what I’m able to tell myself years after the fact, and far away from the friend who got me into this mess in the first place.

Berrak Sarikaya has been sharing stories on the internet since the first moment her dial-up modem connected to AOL. A natural conversation driver, she’s motivated by a firm belief in owning who you are instead of trying to fit the mold. She also loves penguins, speaks fluent GIF, and is obsessed with the three C’s: Content, Community, Coffee. You can connect with her on Twitter: @BerrakBiz

This story is part of The Billfold’s Financial Fails series.

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