CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Florida leads the nation for fraud, and scammers are constantly finding new ways to steal money.
That includes renting out homes they don’t own.
Christina Crissinger wanted to sell her home. However, a scammer was trying to lure renters to her address instead of buyers.
“Somebody came to the door and asked him [Crissinger’s son] when we would be moving,” Crissinger said.
People without appointments to view her home starting knocking on her door, asking when she and her family were moving out. The last person who came told Crissinger she had been in contact with the owner and was about to rent the home with hopes of eventually buying it.
“They [the visitors] proceeded to let us know that they were getting ready to send an application in and purchase our home for $80,000,” Crissinger said.
This was a major red flag to Crissinger, because she listed her house on the market for $229,000.
Crissinger’s realtor, Greg Pownall, didn’t send the potential buyers to the home.
A scammer did.
Pownall said he tried to address the problem after he heard what was happening.
He started texting the scammers, posing as a potential renter. The scammers told him they were missionaries in Nevada who were looking for “God-fearing” people to rent their home. The scammers tried to make themselves look like legitimate landlords and asked questions like, “Do you have a pet?” and, “How many pounds is your pet?”
Cpl. Phil Mullen with the Cape Coral Police Department said scammers are becoming more savvy, using every trick they can to fool others.
“They’ll use the actual listing for a house for sale or a house for rent and try to make themselves appear as the responsible parties for that property,” Mullen said. “They’ll use the right pictures so their ad will look legit.”
That’s exactly what happened with Pownall. The scammers emailed him the pictures he had posted for Crissinger’s home and even sent him what appeared to be a rental agreement.
Unfortunately, some scammers go a step further. They will look up the real property owner’s name and pretend to be that person so it appears as if you are talking to the legitimate owner.
“Just do your homework, talk to somebody, try to go through reputable rental agencies,” Mullen said “The biggest thing is never wire any of your money to somebody you haven’t spoken with, preferably in person, because it’s just the same as mailing cash, and it’s gone.”
Crimes like this are very hard to track down, Mullen said.
“A lot of times they’ll use what is called spoofing a phone number where the number they’re calling from isn’t really their phone number,” Mullen said. “A lot of times they’re not only out of state, they’re out of country. There’s jurisdictional problems where we’re not even going to be able to find them, much less prosecute them, when they’re halfway around the world.”
Here are some tips to stay safe when looking to rent or buy a home:
- Try to use a realtor or rental agency
- Talk directly and in person to the person claiming to be the property owner. If
communication is solely through text, that is a common red flag.
- Look up the real owner of the property using the property appraiser’s site
- Never wire money to anyone prior to meeting him or her in person
- Watch out for text messages or emails with bad grammar. That is usually a red flag that
the scammer is from overseas.