If Craigslist wasn't in the doghouse enough these days with prostitution rings getting broken up and murders being linked to the site, here comes consumer investigator Arnold Diaz waving that judgmental finger of his at the site's real estate section. While lately it seems like there's actually been some optimism in the air about the price of apartments around town significantly dropping, along comes a scammer offering "The Homeboy Hookup" to rain on everyone's parade.

Diaz (of "Shame on You" fame) did an undercover report on a supposed realtor named "Merce," who is actually a Craigslist scammer renting out apartments that he's not the landlord of.

Merce (aka David Flores) has been renting out apartments in areas such as Bed-Stuy and Jamaica. Central to his real estate prowess is the offer of Merce's special, The Homeboy Hookup, where he tells renters that he has rigged the electricity and gas lines in such a way that tenants will not have to pay utilities. By the time the renters are bragging to their friends about how life in gritty yet expensive New York City isn't so bad when you know the right corners to cut, the rubes learn that their deposit is worthless and long gone. In fact, they have no right to inhabit the place they think is their new home. Or even if they do illegally move into the apartment, Con Edison turns off the power since The Hookup is (as of now) unrecognized as a viable promotional code for the power company.

If you're worried about encountering a figure like Merce, there are a few tip-offs you can gather from Diaz's report to help you know that you're dealing with a fleecer:

  • Claims that The Homeboy Hookup works for Merce's clientele because "we stealin'—from the city, from everybody." Despite your easy rapport with Merce, everybody may include you.
  • Revelations of personal details from Merce such as: "The house is paid for. This is my play money every week. I can go get a girl, this girl... I got ten kids." By kids, he might actually mean victims. Congratulations on being the eleventh "child" in Merce's litter.
  • Insistence on paying rent in weekly increments and only accepting a deposit in cash. Merce is so adamant that he "doesn't trust checks" that he lets you know, "If I give you a check, don't take it, cause you could play basketball with it." It turns out Merce is the one hooping it up...with your hard-earned cash.
  • When explaining the origins or his nickname, he casually shares with you that it's because "I've owned a Mercedes Benz since I was 18." In fact, Merce arrived for your appointment in a beat-up van.