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Rental scams explode in tight housing market

Woman loses almost $2,000 to fake listing
Rental Home.png
Posted at 3:10 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 10:00:39-04

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an unrelated photograph from a previous story. The Kirby School apartments are not related to the rental scams discussed in the story. WCPO regrets this error.

With homes and apartments so tough to find this year, many renters are desperate to find anything.

That's how one woman ended falling victim to a rental scam.

Mariah Dates had no luck finding a rental home until a cute two-bedroom house popped up on Facebook Marketplace for just $700 a month.

"I emailed the rental agent, and she emailed me back with interior pictures of the house and everything," Dates said.

Thrilled, Dates drove by the house just to make sure her great find was real.

"It's a real house," she said. "You can go see it."

But she couldn't go inside. The landlord claimed she was currently out of state.

So Dates immediately filled out an application, then sent a deposit and two months rent (which the landlord required ) via the Zelle app.

She never heard back.

"I ended up sending the money for the deposit and the rent, but never got the keys," she said.

No keys showed up via FedEx, as promised, and Dates then found herself ghosted, with no text response from the landlord ever again.

Another victim of the rental scam

It turns out the listing was fake, and Dates was the latest victim of the home rental scam.

The house and the photos were real, but were stolen from a recent "for sale" listing of the home, which was available for anyone to see on Zillow or Realtor.com.

It was never for rent, and the real selling agent had no knowledge of any rental offer on it.

The so called "rental agent" turned out to be a hacked Facebook page, where an innocent person's profile was used to post the home on Facebook Marketplace.

In total, Dates was out a deposit, plus two full months rent.

"It all comes out to $2,145 that I lost," she said.

We've sent her information to her bank, in the chance they can help. In most cases they can't, however, because the money was sent via cash and is untraceable (in this case to a burner cell phone number).

The rental scam is becoming common this year because of the red-hot housing market.

With home prices so high, many people are desperate to rent homes, making them easy prey for scammers.

Warning signs of a scam

So don't let this happen to you.

The FTC says be suspicious of rental listings if:

  • The landlord wants a deposit before you have met.
  • The landlord is out of town and cannot meet you personally.
  • You can't go inside the home or apartment.
  • They ask for a deposit via Venmo, Zelle, or Google Play, iTunes, or other gift cards.

"I'm a smart girl, but this one really got me," Dates said.

Finally, in this tight housing market, be suspicious of any rental that sounds too cheap, so you don't waste your money.
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Don't Waste Your Money

8:47 PM, Oct 17, 2018

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