A Lesson In Avoiding Craigslist Scams, Trusting Your Instincts and Meeting The Best People Ever

I normally refrain from venturing too far into my personal life here on HelloGiggles because: A) This site isn’t my journal, and B) “A journal implies, like, a 13-year-old girl who rides horses and is obsessed with her mom and that’s not what I’m doing.” (Lena Dunham, I love you.)

But I really can’t keep this month’s recent events to myself because: A) The ambiguity of my haphazard life updates are starting to concern and irritate my loved ones, so I owe them a fleshed out version of what’s transpired, and B) Maybe my intriguing combination of bad luck, naivete, and plucky spirit might inspire you all to be a little more wary and a little less susceptible to scams, shams, and swindles (which, incidentally, would be a great name for an old-timey magic shop. You’re welcome).

I also hope my crazy week might also motivate you to recognize that, surprisingly, there really is a ton of great energy out in the universe, and for every seemingly awful life event, there is almost always a positive equalizer. And sometimes, the very worst scenario actually sets off an incredible chain reaction of amazing encounters and opportunities.

I’ll try to make this timeline as pithy as possible.

It all began Sunday, June 10, 2012: Good morning, beautiful world! It’s the big day! I’m roadtripping all the way down to Los Angeles—the land where dreams come true! Hollywood, here I come! Bright lights, big city (Okay, sorry, pithy).

I’m headed to the City of Angels to work with the amazing women of HelloGiggles and I couldn’t be more stoked. Spending an entire summer doing what I already love to do? And the beachy climate means pants are optional? What a deal!

I’d spent about a month searching for an apartment on Craigslist, which isn’t entirely fun or easy to do from 500 miles away. But I’d found a listing that seemed reasonable, and the renter is responsive and nice. But despite all that, something trips my panic button and I can’t shake the paranoia that something is off.

Now, you all don’t know me personally (actually, no, that’s not true, the majority of my readers are relatives and friends of my mom, so, scratch that), but I’m a pretty great worrier. I don’t normally brag, but I mean, I can easily kick anyone’s ass at feeling anxious and just generally ill at ease. So, it isn’t surprising that even though this Craigslist renter seems kind and honest, I am overcome with dread. But instead of giving into it, I decide to buck up and ignore it.

But, just to be safe, I Google the renter’s name and find lots of websites confirming his legitimacy as a real, non-serial-killing human. Good start. Now, for any amateur worrier, this might be enough. But no, I’m not satisfied.

I then request to speak with the renter over Skype, just to, you know, look into his eyes and really verify that he is not indeed a serial killer. We talk for almost an hour, and his corneas pass the test: I can’t discern any shady creepiness in his eyeballs. Great. Am I happy? No.

So then I enlist the help of my insanely amazing friend, Caitlin Donovan. Besides being a talented writer, blogger, and brand-spanking-new HelloGiggles contributor, Caitlin is also an investigator-for-hire. She graciously takes time out of her busy day to meet this Craigslist man. All checks out—no signs of murderous intentions.

So, great! I chalk my bad gut feeling up to delusional paranoia, go ahead and transfer a sizable chunk of my life savings into this stranger’s account. If I were good at foreshadowing, I would insert something discreetly ominous here. Instead, please envision a giant neon “DANGER!” sign flashing repeatedly over that simple bank transaction.

Fast forward back to June 10. The sun is shining, I’ve traversed the boring, stick-straight road down to LA with the help of my sort of condescending-sounding GPS lady, and I meet Mr. Craigslist in person. He seems normal! Nice! Tall! Must be trustworthy. He doesn’t have a TV, though I swear he mentioned one (RED FLAG, MICHELLE!), but I can probably survive without my morning dose of Josh Elliot. I get the keys, drive him to a friend’s house (paranoia pang—why is someone subleasing their apartment just to go hang out at another apartment?), and settle into my new, temporary digs.

Monday and Tuesday are relatively quiet and normal.

And then Wednesday.

Realizing I cannot, in fact, survive without my morning dose of Josh Elliot, I head to Best Buy after a day of HelloGiggling to buy a tiny TV. I return home late, starving, and exhausted. As I haul my electronics upstairs, I’m stopped by a stunning southern belle holding a ridiculously adorable, fluffy white puppy. She asks my name. She asks how long I’m staying with Mr. Craigslist.

“You know he got evicted Monday, right?

Jaw drops, stomach flips, consciousness threatens to peace out entirely.

My southern savior, who I soon learn is epic star of stage and screen, Ms. Savannah Boucher (seriously, I can’t make up a name that perfect) takes me into her abode upstairs and explains that I am the third (third!) would-be subletter Mr. Craigslist has taken money from. But apparently, I’m the lucky one because neither of the other parties ever even gained access to his crib once they wired over the cash money. The reason he so graciously granted me a three-night stay is that he knew the eviction was looming and he wouldn’t be able to stay there himself. Generosity at it’s finest!

After witnessing me intermittently bawl and laugh like a loon, my fairy godmother Savannah sends me to bed in my now-tainted, illegitimate apartment.

Thursday morning, I meet with Savannah, her unimaginably loveable puppy Alfie, and the building manager, who recaps the situation and kindly expresses his condolences for my lost investment. With some gentle prodding from Savannah I’m sure, he offers to let me stay through the end of the month, which is when the sheriff is scheduled to arrive and officially condemn the place (if I’m not living the American dream, then really, who is? Hollywood glamor!). Disheartened but grateful for the two-week window, I sulk back to my criminally rented cave.

Friday brings some bad news (relatively speaking, I guess?). The manager informs me that the owner got wind of this whole situation and doesn’t care how polite and quiet I am—he wants me out by Monday. Did I mention this news reached me Friday afternoon? The manager compassionately hands me a phone number for a future building tenant, who upon hearing my story (I’m becoming famous! A real LA dream come true!), took such pity on my pathetic situation, she offered up her couch as temporary shelter. Sweet, but sleeping on a stranger’s sofa? I stash the phone number deep in my pocket and vow to find my own, stranger-danger-free-zone.

I begin manically searching Craigslist (HAVE I NOT LEARNED MY LESSON?) and come up with nothing but a listing for temporary luxury housing in Beverly Hills. Thinking I can surely smooth-talk (i.e. beg, plead, hysterically cry) the landlord into lowering the price, I jet over to the side of town reserved for the Donna Martins of the world, not the Andrea Zuckermans (I generally make it a rule never to compare myself to Andrea, but for the sake of the story, I have to make that sacrifice).

Because the luxury-housing landlord has left for the day, the housekeeper obligingly shows me the (penthouse) studio. I immediately feel like the apartment can tell I am poor. I can sense the pristine queen bed sizing me up and the immaculate countertops judging my mall-bought outfit. The housekeeper likes me though. She takes down my phone number to pass along to her son, who she says she hopes will marry me.

I’m still waiting for that call.

I call the landlord, and she is delighted I like the completely-impossible-to-not-like studio. She is also amused by my attempt at haggling and refuses to budge from her sky-high price tag. Damn.

I dig deep into my pocket and fish out the stranger’s phone number. After three rings, Mary Poppins answers the phone. A soothing, melodic British voice beckons me to meet her for coffee and recount my sob story. Well, what else do I have to do today?

I meet my new English caretaker, the lovely Lorraine Wilkinson, for coffee and weep directly into my organic green tea boba drink (delicious, by the way). She sympathetically listens to every ridiculous detail, and immediately decides I will stay on her couch, free of charge, and all she asks for as compensation is my willingness to watch movies with her and allow for a little bit of smothering motherly love. Um, my dream.

I’m noticing this epic saga is reaching the alarming 2,000-word point, so for the sake of retaining at least one or two readers, I’ll wrap it up and leave out the part where I babysit a sweet stranger’s adorable four-year-old, am adopted into a loving community of Brits in LA, and inadvertently crash a hard drive, leading me to sob openly in the middle of the Apple Store. In case you are wondering, the Genius Bar houses boxes of tissues, and you’re free to take as many as you need! Shout-out to Apple!

Unbeknownst to me, Savannah goes ahead and emails a friend who is traveling through the rest of summer, and manages to convince him to let some totally strange, desperate San Francisco transplant stay in his place.

As it turns out, this incredibly generous new host is pretty epic in his own right, just like 99% of the other new friends I’ve made. And his insight is spot-on. He says this whole situation makes him think of the famous Steve Jobs Stanford graduation speech:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Within one week, I managed to amass an entirely new, unbelievably amazing, loving, supportive cast of characters (or as my sister calls them, “my carnival”). And while it’s been a total whirlwind, I can already see the dots connecting.

The morals of the story are: 1) Always trust your instincts. If something feels iffy, shady, suspicious, or just plain wrong, it probably is. Don’t doubt yourself or let others talk you out of your initial impressions. You’re wiser than you think. 2) Some people do really crappy things to other people. They just do. 3) That doesn’t mean people are bad, and in fact, sometimes the absolute worst situations turn out to be the biggest blessings.

If everything had gone smoothly with my Craigslist rental, I would have quietly gone to work, returned home to eat dinner, listen to Loveline and fall asleep, and never have even crossed paths with all these truly magical people. So thank you universe, for sending a scammer my way.

The end.

(And I didn’t even mention riding horses or being obsessed with my mom. See, journals are great.)

Image via Earsucker

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