I often tell the story of my experience, soon after college in the 1980s, searching for an apartment in NYC. I was eager to move out of my parents’ house and into NYC for all of the reasons that readily come to mind (the easier commute to my NYC job, the social life, a sense of independence). I searched alone, I searched with a possible roommate, I searched before work, I searched after work, and I searched on weekends.

The problem was, just like today, finding something affordable in Manhattan was exceedingly difficult.

To make a long story short, before I had the good fortune to find an affordable sublet from a friend of a friend who was leaving the city for a year, I was ripped off to the tune of two months of rent (first month rent and a security deposit) by a small-time criminal who sublet his apartment to me and 10 or so others before fleeing.

I tell this story in more detail in Six Simple Rules for a Better Life and during most of my speaking engagements, and I conclude by suggesting, as part of the fifth of the six rules, Be a Lifelong Learner:

1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Be careful with your money.

3. There are two teams, the winning team, and the learning team: it’s critical that we learn from our experiences.

Then, recently, I heard about a similar ripoff many people are experiencing these days, in the age of internet-facilitated scams.

Most of us know not to respond to e-mail offers of cash from Nigerian princes or lottery winnings from a lottery we didn’t enter. But, how about the following? 

Like me in the mid-1980s, you are anxious to move into NYC (or anywhere else). You see an ad from a real estate broker. The described apartment is exactly what you are looking for: great location, perfect size, and affordable. All you have to do is to send this broker the first month’s rent and security deposit and the place is yours.

So, you do that. And later you learn this “real estate broker” doesn’t exist. They are a scammer in a basement (or a penthouse) in some far off land (or in a nearby state).

1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Be careful with your money.

And if you happen to fall for such a scam, please: learn from your mistake and tell others what happened to you so they have a chance of avoiding the same bad fortune.

Have you ever been the victim of a scam? Join the conversation with your comments about lessons learned…

Best regards,