Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Tread lightly while making travel plans through Craigslist

Cynthia Drake

About a month before our travels to Texas and Florida, I received a phone call from the leasing agent with whom I’d arranged to rent a furnished apartment for two weeks during our Texas stay.

The purpose of the call was to firm up the details of our trip. I had already paid a security deposit on the apartment in Fort Worth, which I had originally found through a Craigslist ad.

“Can I go ahead and charge the same card for your remaining balance?” the leasing agent asked.

I paused.

Something didn’t sit right with me about paying for a two-week stay prior to even seeing the apartment in person, but it was difficult to formulate my objection in such a way that I didn’t sour the entire transaction.

“I’d really rather wait to pay the balance until I see the apartment,” I said. “Normally when you stay in a hotel, you aren’t charged until you arrive …”

The leasing agent delicately explained that this wasn’t a hotel, and their policy was to charge up front. And hadn’t he sent me the lovely photos of the apartment? In other words, there was no reason not to trust him completely.

Problem is, a photo isn’t the real thing. And I have an issue with paying for anything before services are rendered. Especially when I live in another state and would be entering into a contract for an apartment sight unseen. Luckily, without much more negotiating, the agent consented to wait until we arrived in Texas.

Even more luckily, once we did set foot in the apartment, it was everything the photos and Craigslist ad described. Relief!

I knew I was taking a gamble — one well-known Craiglist scam involves thieves advertising fake apartments. And since I did pay my security deposit with my credit card over the phone, I knew that if I were dealing with a dishonest person, he could have easily scammed me, anyway.

My ace in the pocket was that I chose the credit card with the best anti-fraud policies and best customer service. It would be a hassle to deal with, but some companies are easier to work with than others.

Though everything worked out well in the end, I think the moral of the story here is to trust your instincts and be assertive about your finances, especially when it comes to dealing with people you haven’t met before.

Be careful about how you send your credit card information (avoid transmitting your information over email), and choose a card that offers you the best protection in the event of a scam.

I also learned a valuable lesson in following up on your financial transactions after your travels are over. I put a security deposit on the credit card that should have been refunded to me after I turned in the keys to the rental apartment. About a month later, I checked my statement and didn’t find a credit back from the leasing office, so I had to call and follow up.

Glad I remembered to do this — it’s easy to let things like this slip through the cracks upon return to your normal life after vacation.

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  • Russ

    I’ve had similar experiences with pre-payment and it makes me very uncomfortable to the point where I usually refuse to do so unless I have to (cable company). What I got from this piece, and it’s a very good point, is the idea of using credit cards with the best fraud protection services for such transactions when they can’t be avoided. The truth is that I have about five different cards from 3 different issuers and I have no idea which is the best against fraud — which I will remember to look into.