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Family moves into dream rental home, finds it's a scam

A couple with children found the perfect rental home, and started moving in, only to learn the home wasn't really available to rent.
Posted at 11:04 AM, Feb 27, 2023

The cost to rent these days is driving some families to seek out less-expensive places to live.

But as one family learned recently, cheaper options aren't always what they seem, and in some cases are sophisticated scams. 

Imagine paying a security deposit, then bringing everything you own to a brand-new rental unit. Brandon Smith and Shelby Moore just did that, only to find out hours later the home they thought they were renting wasn't really available for them to rent.

They thought they had found the perfect rental home for $1,000 a month on Facebook Marketplace.

"It was a dream come true for us," Moore said, scrolling through photos of the vacant house.

The landlord took their deposit, gave them the front door code, and told them to move in at any time. They rented a moving van, even shooting videos of their thrilled children in the van and their first walk-through inside.

"That was us all excited about it, ready to move in and everything," Smith said, showing the video on his phone.

Cellphone with a scam alert.

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But as they were moving in, they say a man stopped by to inform them it wasn't their house at all, even though they had signed a contract, and sent a $1,000 security deposit through Venmo to a man they thought was the landlord.

They had fallen for the rental scam, a fake home rental ad stolen from a legitimate ad (where the same house was advertised at double the price).

"It sounded realistic at the time, because we were just so excited about it," Smith said.

Warning signs of a rental scam

Redfin's Daryl Fairweather says it's never been easier for scammers to make a fake listing.

"You can pull photos from other listings; you can digitally alter them," he said.

Fairweather says that's why you should always see a property in person before giving a deposit, even if it's out of town.

"I would recommend getting a friend or family member in the area to go look at the place for you if you can," she said.

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Redfin has a checklistof the warning signs you are about to be scammed.

The Better Business Bureau's Melanie McGovern suggests you meet the landlord or leasing agent in person. If they refuse to meet or claim they are traveling out of town, it's time for a gut check.

"If the landlord can't get in for some reason, that's a big red flag," she said, "So you want to make sure they're following all the steps of a normal home rental — that they have a key, that they are the owner."

Just because someone gives you a code does not mean they are the landlord; scammers often call the real landlord, pretending to be renters, and get the code to get in the front door.

The BBB also recommends you:

- Search online for listings with the same description or photos.

- Be wary of an unusually low price.

- Never pay with cash transfer apps. Always pay by check or credit card.

Smith and Moore have now set up a GoFundMe to try to get help finding a new place, having lost more than $1,000 and their dreams.

"It's very stressful, very stressful because I just want to feel like we can just live," Moore said.

So be suspicious of great deals on rentals, so you don't waste your money.