Monday, February 11th 2008, 4:00 AM
The apartment sounded too good to be true.
A fully furnished two-bedroom with a balcony in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, going for $950 instead of the $2,200 it would normally fetch because of the tenant's sudden job transfer.
The catch: You have to take it sight unseen - and send a security deposit.
The bogus rental was even more of a steal than unsuspecting would-be tenants thought, part of a growing number of scams cooked up to profit from gullible people desperate for affordable housing in the city, according to Internet fraud and security expert Craig Solomon.
"It is becoming more common because New York apartments have become such a hot commodity," said Solomon. "People are so desperate that they aren't always thinking clearly."
This particular listing on Craigslist.org, the go-to site for frazzled city dwellers, featured appealing photos and a quick response to inquiries from a scam artist who used the alias "JoAnn Rinaggio" and a tale about being transferred to North Carolina.
"I will like to tell you that we are doing this based on trust and I would like you to trust me as I trust you. ... You can see the beautiful apartment in the pictures, but not in person yet," she writes, asking prospective tenants to wire a $550 security deposit and promising a return envelope with the apartment keys.
According to Solomon, "countless" victims fell for this ruse, sent money, never heard back from "Rinaggio" and learned the hard way that the address for the dream apartment, 8235 Fourth Ave., also was bogus.
Documents obtained by the Daily News show the phony name was used by a convicted serial rubber-check writer, JoAnne Smith, who was convicted nine times between 1986 and 2004 for fake checks totaling $20,000.
"Craigslist is made to sell local, and whenever anyone from out of state is involved, red flags should immediately go up," said Solomon. "Avoiding the scam is simple. Try to always do business face-to-face, and never, ever, wire money anywhere."
This is also the advice posted under "avoiding scams and fraud" by Craigslist on its Web site, which urges users not to wire money, give out personal financial information or respond to any offers requiring you to provide escrow money.
"Know that only a scammer will 'guarantee' your transaction," Craigslist warns.
Beth Ann Bovino, a senior economist at Standard & Poor's, found herself caught up in such a scam when someone posted her address and photos of it as a bargain rental.
"Rents are higher and people are in real need of an affordable place to live," said Bovino. "It is sad to say, but these kinds of scams appeal to desperation and greed."
"People need to remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."