New twist on rental scam: Criminals putting in real owners’ names

Published: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. – Scammers are getting wise. They know consumers are getting smarter and that could be why criminals are putting a twist on the popular rental scam, hoping you do just a little bit of research.

A woman who asked us to just use her first name, Paula, said her out-of-town sister was close to making a deal to rent a vacation home, in Southwest Florida.

“The lease was perfect. It was a perfect lease,” said Paula when her sister sent her the documents.

But that perfect lease came with some imperfections.

“First of all the person wanted her to wire the money– didn’t want any paper trail what-so-ever,” recalled Paula. “They didn’t want her to speak over the phone, they kept pushing her off on their cell phone. They were going back and forth on the emails and the emails were– the grammar was incorrect.”

All of those issues raised red flags for Paula, so she did some more research. She found out that the name of the homeowner matched the name on the lease. So she did a quick search online and was able to reach out to that homeowner, directly. She found out, the home was not for rent at all.

“[The homeowner] had just bought the unit…. I had told him that pictures of your unit are up there your address is up there,” said Paula about calling the real owner. “… I was excited that I was able to stop my sister from losing the money.”

Fraud Specialist with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Beth Schell explained that scammers are getting smarter.

“What else can I do, the criminal is saying, that will just confirm the scam,” she said.

If consumers see that the real owner’s name is on the lease, they may overlook some of the other red flags.

“That’s just affirming the scam that they’re doing. It’s just putting one more layer to make it look realistic,” said Schell.

In Florida, it is fairly easy to find out who owns the property.

“It is so easy to do a google check of the address or go to the Property Appraiser’s Office and put an address in and find out who the owner is,” said Schell. “And so these scams are easy to perpetrate because doing it is a simple click. You cut and paste pictures, do a little search, you find out who owns the place, you create a nice little ad, and it looks great for someone who is looking to rent property. And that’s why if you’re looking to rent a place, looking to vacation and you’re online, you always have to check and double check to make sure it’s a legitimate ad.”

For Paula, she had a piece of advice for the would-be scammer:

“Get a real job. Don’t try to live your life by scamming other people,” she said.

Fraud Specialist Beth Schell had this advice for would-be renters.

“Run the address, do a google search of the address and see what pops up,” she advised. “You know same way you would do for a scam, if you’re looking to see if something is legit or a company’s legit, you would google it to see what people have to say about it.”

Other tips from Schell:

  • Never wire transfer money to someone you don’t know
  • Always search the name and the address of the home
  • Find out if the house was recently for sale and if possible, try to track down and speak to the owner
  • Beware of anyone who refuses to talk to you over the phone and look out for poorly written emails with grammar mistakes
  • If you have any questions, call the Lee Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line: 239-258-3280

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