"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rental Home Shopping, Humility, Scams, and More Humility

For several weeks now I’ve been obsessively perusing Craigslist and other rental websites, looking at potential homes for Joann and I for the coming year. We’ve enjoyed our place on the west side of Olympia, but have thought there might be some cheaper options out there that might even be upgrades.

However, after multiple visits to various houses, apartments, and condos, we have decided to stay at our current apartment for another year. It wasn’t an easy decision, but all things considered—cost, size, location, moving expenses/inconvenience, etc.—it seemed to be the right one.

Decision-making does not always come easy for me. I think my personality is such that I’m excited by possibility, by options, or by the perceived freedom that not being tied down to one thing or path provides. But, as my wife has often told me, once I make a decision I’m in, I'm on board, and I don’t really look back.

I don’t really have any strong regrets, maybe because I tend to get a bit fatalistic and assume that my life couldn’t have happened any other way than it did. And when I give up the desire to change my circumstances, I can more easily embrace and cherish the moment, embracing my life as the unique gift it is rather than wishing for an alternative gift.

It’s interesting to me to look at what pulls me in each direction when I’m trying to make up my mind about something. In this case, there were a variety of factors, many so compelling that I’d wake up in the morning sure of one location as our new home, then by lunchtime have been won over to the other side.

I’m currently re-reading Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, a book all about Benedictine spirituality, which is sort of about how to be a monk without moving to a monastery. It’s brilliant and empowering, and I really am coming to believe in the power of some sort of wide-spread monastic movement being a potentially transformational thing for the Christian Church today. I know manifestations of such a movement are popping up these days.

But in a recent chapter, I found yet another decision-making aid: the virtue of humility. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I found that different dimensions of being humble were pulling me in different directions. On one hand, a valuing of humility seemed to be telling me to live more simply, to move to a smaller, cheaper place, to avoid excess and pursue a life of simple means by living with less.

On the other hand, humility seemed to have a dimension of being content with what is, not pursuing “greener grass,” resisting the temptation to purse novelty simply for the sake of novelty but gaining a greater awareness of what makes my current circumstances beautiful and good, rather than complicating my life with other options. So even the “virtuous” choice wasn’t obvious.

Anyway, we’re not moving, and we’re both happy about it. We love our place, and I think are both feeling the rush of peace and sense of relief of knowing some aspect of the future and having the whole thing settled and done.

And on the final day (this past Monday) when we had to make our decision due to reasons of lease renewal and 20-days notice, I noticed a rental post on Craigslist that seemed too good to be true: a very large, nice-looking house for a great price, but with very little information. Surprised but curious, I emailed the poster, figuring I had nothing to lose. I thought there might be a catch, but it was worth a shot, right? Here’s the reply I received:

Thanks for your response and interest in my house. The house is very much available and it is charming 3 bedroom home for rent in Olympia WA USA. Which was formally occupied by me and my family before we left for Nigeria for a doctoral duty under a missionary, we left for a volunteer mission together with other missionaries for a development program with the aim of developing the people of west Africa physically and spiritually as God as directed us. We wanted to sell the house initially but we later changed our mind after we discovered that we wouldn't be spending more then 5 years here in Africa. So as you know well that the house is located at 3139 Horse Haven Street Southeast, Olympia WA 98501. Which my family and I have spent so much time and money to maintain it up till its standard. We have been trying our best to make the house as clean as possible, because am a clean person and we don't like dirt around our surroundings and also the Bible says cleanliness is next to Godliness. We are looking for a well-behaved, clean and honest tenant to rent out our house too. We will like you to give us your words and promise us that you will take good care of our house so that we will be happy when we come to visit you in the future.. We accept short or long-term rent and month to month also... All the utilities are included in the rent. Pets are allowed. So kindly get back to us with this information below.


Full Name__________________________________________________
Home Phone ( )________________________
Date of Birth_________________________________
Other Phone ( )___________________
Current Address_______________________ ________
Reasons for Leaving____________________________
Rent $__________
Phone ( )____________________________
Are you married____________________________
How many people will be living in the house____________________________
Do you have a pet____________________________
Do you have a car____________________________
Move In Date____________________________
When do you intended sending me the deposit___________________________
When do you intended receiving the keys and document of the house___________________________
When do you intend to drive by the Property___________________________
Any Good Credit___________________________
Credit Score___________________________
Any Police Problem___________________________

Looking forward to hear from you with all this details so that i can have it in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you.Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the key to you,please we are giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we do not see our self's yet and only putting everything into Gods hand, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this. Looking forward to hear from you. you can give us a call on our cell

Best Regards

(They did give numbers here, which I've deleted) .(call anytime)
Note: the Rent is $700 and security deposit is $700
Total Move In Cost:$1400

So obviously after I got this email I could see that what seemed too good to be true actually was. I’ve re-read this email several times, and usually laugh a little more each time. However, the first time I read this, I was actually a little angry. Not because I felt duped, necessarily, since there were so few indicators in the original post, other than a below-market price; but because I know how common these emails and offers are and that there are people out there who do get tricked.

Has anyone else ever gotten an email from a wealthy Nigerian prince who wants to give all his wealth to me because he believes in me and my life and that I will use the money for good? All I have to do is make a large deposit in his account to get the transfer process started!

Actually, my roommate in China, Will, who is from Cameroon, had a friend who almost got screwed out of a lot of money because someone hacked into Will's account and, posing as him, emailed a bunch of his friends back home and claimed to be very ill and in need of financial support. One of Will’s friends fell for it and made a transfer to the hacker. Fortunately, they figured it out just and time so that Will’s friend was able to cancel the transaction. But…yikes!

And it makes me want to do something. I debated about what to write back to this “landlord” if anything. I thought about playing along, giving him a bunch of fake information, telling him I was married to a Pterodactyl and was born in 1492. But I didn’t. More than that, I wanted to rebuke him. But I didn’t, because…what would be the point?

Choosing to say nothing, to remain silent, was and is hard. When someone is doing something that I believe is harmful to themselves or others, it’s hard to not say something, to not call them on it. And in some cases, that’s probably useful. But to others, such a rebuke will fall on deaf ears.

As many wiser than me have shown me along the way, most people have to be ready to change before they will in fact change. The soul is a delicate thing, and it seems that when some feel threatened or attacked, they put up a wall, or shut down, or live in denial, unwilling to receive correction, unable to display the kind of humility needed to know that change is needed.

So emailing someone across the world to tell them that I’m praying for their soul and for the lives of those that they and people like them have harmed and deceived...it seems kind of useless. Maybe I’m wrong and it would actually make a difference, maybe plant a seed of doubt in their minds about engaging in that kind of deception and trickery. But I don’t know them, don’t understand them, don’t understand their motives. And maybe more importantly, they haven’t invited me to correct them.

It’s not just that “they’re Nigerian” and so I shouldn’t bother, which seems to have hints of racism; they are my human brothers and deserve the same level of accountability as my American brothers, I’d think. But they haven’t asked me for correction, and so I think it’s better I don’t offer it, even if my mixed motives here are genuinely more pure and others-centered rather than vindictive (which I'm not 100% sure is the case).

Anyway, I hurt for people that harm others with their self-centered actions, and believe there is a better way to live life. Though I’m looking in the mirror, and know that I too have my own harmful tendencies—both in word and in deed—that stem from a desire for self-preservation, to prove myself, to cope with my insecurities.

So I guess I’ll just rebuke myself for now, rather than someone who may or may not be from Nigeria. And I’ll keep in mind in the future that 2,300 sq foot homes in Olympia advertised as $700 a month are probably not legitimate.


Matt Boswell said...

Sorry, to whom it may (or may not) concern, if the comment I just deleted which looked like spam was actually a real person. Didn't want to risk it. Write me if you want if I made a mistake.

Mrs. Chappy said...

We have moved a lot over the last few years and craigslist has gotten horrible with scams! We received that EXACT same email on quite a number of rental houses that seemed PERFECT for us. Totally disappointing.