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How Social Media Stopped a Craigslist Scam

March 10, 2011 By Doug in Miami: Local News  | 12 Comments


It’s your worst nightmare: you give up all your worldly possessions and move cross-country to start a brand new life in South Beach, only to discover that the prospective roommate you met on craigslist is a scammer who ran off with all your money before you could even move in.  You’re out your deposit, don’t have a place to live, and you’re many miles from home.

This happened recently to a friend of one of our forum members, FL_Style.  Most of us could identify with the story he told.  Many of us left our old lives behind to pursue that fantasy by the sea, and somewhere in the process discovered that con artists in South Florida are about as plentiful as the little green lizards scurrying across the sidewalks.

Most of us are hip to the less imaginative con games: the Nigerian scams invariably require you to send your payments to someone who’s off doing “missionary work” somewhere in the Congo. Or they send you a check from overseas that you’re supposed to deposit into your account and send the difference to their “accountant” in Tasmania.  We think that once we’ve met with someone in person, gone over the fine print, and been provided with a signed receipt that we’re home free.  Think again.


Monica has a clever little technique.  She’ll allegedly move in with someone who spends a lot of time away from the apartment and then place a roommate-wanted ad on craigslist.  Then, we’re told, she’ll show the unit to several people while the roommate is away, explaining that she is about to move out and wants to rent out her room.  She presumably asks each applicant for a hefty deposit to hold it, but just before move-in day, disappears with all the money and moves in with someone else, so she can start the process over again.  The victims don’t usually have a clue until they all show up one morning with their suitcases in hand.  The only problem with her ingenious little scheme is that she has a rap sheet and didn’t think to use a different name…



When FL-Style first contacted the forums, he figured his friend’s money was gone and that Monica was untraceable.  He simply wanted to warn others so the same type of scam didn’t happen to them.  He also filed a police report and posted a warning in the roommate section of craigslist.  Monica was kind enough to answer his craigslist warning ad.  She had a sob story about how she couldn’t call him because her cell phone and the deposit money were stolen.  She claimed she no longer had that apartment.  When she found out that they filed a police report on her, she agreed to meet with them to return the money, but never gave them the final instructions as to where they would meet.  So, despite their best efforts, FL_Style and his friend were at a stalemate.

However, the situation would shift unexpectedly in their favor: our own Maria de los Angeles was able to locate a mug shot and prior arrest record for a Monica Brown on the Miami page of a website called  Since that website has a disclaimer about accuracy, Maria looked up the information in the Clerk of County Courts website to verify it.

FL_Style confirmed that the person in the mugshot was indeed the Monica they had dealt with.  He provided the information he got from Maria to the prosecutor’s office.  The prosecutor added the new information to his case.

Using her email addresses and cell numbers, we were able to find other rental ads she’d placed.  Some of the buildings were practically across the street from one another.  This led Maria to hypothesize that Monica may have been working with other people in this scam—possibly even building owners.  She has to have a way to access these different units, after all.

Then, on March 9, a Younshique in San Francisco posted in the scammer thread to let us know that someone named Monica using the same email address had answered her roommate ad.  Monica wrote Youshinique that she was planning to move to San Francisco and needed a place to stay while she was looking for a place.  Younshique Googled her email address and found the thread about Monica on Miami Beach 411.

Will FL_Style’s friend ever see his money again? Will Monica Brown be caught before she flees to California? You’ll need to stay tuned to the BEWARE: Craigslist Scammer Monica Brown in South Beach thread in our forums for the answers to these intriguing questions.  But one thing is for sure: social media is an excellent way to stop scammers in their tracks!


Even though this may be the end for Monica Brown, there are many more out there just like her, and they’re always thinking of newer and craftier ways to separate you from your hard-earned cash.  Here are a few ways to avoid them:

  • Google their names, addresses, and phone numbers
  • If they claim to be the owner of a property, verify this using the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Property Search:
  • If you live in Miami, Las Vegas, Reno, Tampa, or Phoenix, look them up on - most people with any common sense won’t use their real name, but if you think you have it, search this useful website!
  • Check to see if your county Clerk of Court office allows you to search for arrests on their website.  For Miami-Dade, this is the website: - again, make sure you have their real name, and birthdate, if possible.
  • Search their names and/or akas on
  • Get everything in writing.  If a person is legit, they have no reason to refuse such a request.

Don’t try to take the law into your own hands if you feel that you’ve been scammed.  Often, these people work in groups and could possibly be armed.  Your best bet is to file a police report and to share your story on a public forum such as  Facebook will only alert your friends, but a public forum like ours will get the word out to people all over the world.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

See more articles by Doug

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12 Comments on

"How Social Media Stopped a Craigslist Scam"

rk says:

Nice summary Doug. I like your list of tools at the end about how to protect yourself from a scam. You mention checking if they claim to be the owner. I would go a step further and say that one should never rent from anyone but the owner (or their authorized agents). Tenants are not allowed to sublet apartments on their own without the owner’s specific approval. Anyone renting from a non-owner “roommate” is asking for trouble one way or the other.

Posted on 03/11/2011 at 3:21 PM

Christy says:

Excellent summary! Great for anyone who wants to catch up on the thread and a good warning to outsiders. Beware of ads posted by people claiming to be realtors. They use an anonymous email and provide no phone number. Most realtor listings have more info on the realtor than the property!

Posted on 03/11/2011 at 4:29 PM

Doug says:

Thanks, rk and Christy! Yes, that’s very true, rk.  It’s all too easy even with the legit ads for a roommate to “sneak” you in without bothering to tell the landlord.  Then, a few days later, the landlord happens to visit the property and asks you who you are.  And they may well disapprove of people bringing in unauthorized roommates.  One reason? Evictions.  They want to be able to account for every occupant in case they ever had to serve them a notice to vacate.

@Christy - Even the ads that post numbers should provide the address of the property.  I noticed last time I was looking at apartments that ads that listed only phone numbers were often listing services that wanted to charge you money for their listings—which they compiled from other craigslist ads and other often out-of-date sources!

Posted on 03/11/2011 at 4:53 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Excellent wrap-up of the case that’s still in progress, Doug!  This case is something I’m definitely going to be talking about in my social media presentations.  It’s really speaks volumes of the power of online communities.

Just one more thing (and not to gloat about my gumshoe skills), but ... I had to clarify the confusion about the addresses involved in the case.  FL_Style, FL_Style’s friend and another victim who posted on a different site ( used different building numbers in their posts.  Part of her alleged scam was to meet at one different address on Collins only to show a unit in a different building.  Also, some posts I think simply confused two numbers by typo.

Once I was able to narrow it down to one building number and FL_Style confirmed what building it actually was, I was able to locate the name and address of the current owner through public property records.

That’s how we were able to put even more two and two together, because he then contacted the owner and learned that (according to the owner), Monica Brown had been arrested for non-payment of rent at that unit.

Thus we figured out that she was probably renting apartments, not paying rent until forcefully “evicted” and perpetrating this scam in the meantime. FL_Style and his friend met up with her the first time while she was already out on bail!

So, bottom line, the online community was able to detective work that in the end, aided law enforcement in uncovering this woman’s alleged shenanigans.

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 7:36 PM

Doug says:

Hi Maria—She was arrested for nonpayment of rent? Or evicted? So if people ask us about what kinds of jobs there are in Miami Beach, we can see waiting tables, bartending, and….con art! heh heh

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 7:46 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Hey Doug—well FL_Style said he talked to the owner of unit 28 and was told something to that effect.  At least that’s what we know so far ... though I though this kind of thing was usually settled in small claims and didn’t go to arrest.

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 7:59 PM

Doug says:

If you could be arrested for nonpayment of rent, half the country would be in jail right now! You’re right, it’s a small claims matter, unless maybe they somehow were able to prove there was fraud involved…

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 8:22 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Yes, I think there’s more to it than meets the eye ... the plot is definitely thickening!

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 8:31 PM

cockerspaniellove says:

Important tip to add - NEVER pay cash smile

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 11:55 PM

Doug says:

That’s a good one—cashier’s checks are the best way to go!

Posted on 03/13/2011 at 1:12 PM

Marsja says:

I believe I was Scammed… yesterday Paid up front for a condo rental at the Islander Condinioms on 1255 collins miami florida. If any one has any information about that particular location pls contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). I feel helpless because I do not live in the area. The person posted the ad on craigslist and I thought it was legit untill a recieved a suspicious reciept. They claim to be the owner of the building but after doing some research I found that each condo is owned individually. I paid the deposit and rental fee up front and i need help finding out information.

Posted on 03/23/2011 at 11:52 AM

Doug says:

Marsja, please contact the Miami Beach Police Dept.  They already have a case open on Monica Brown and this could be in some way connected.

Posted on 03/23/2011 at 12:07 PM

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