Woman finds perfect home to rent, loses $2,200 in tricky landlord scam

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The very competitive rental market is making it tough for renters to find a place to call home.

If you're looking for a rental, you need to watch out for scammers capitalizing on the extremely high rental demand.

Sherri Harris lost $2,200 after thinking she found the perfect rental.

"That's very devastating, considering we are on a fixed income," she said. "I thought it was secured, so that's the one I went with because I was using a voucher."

Using a Section 8 voucher, she wanted to make sure when she found a rental, she did more than just talk on the phone to the man who claimed he was the landlord.

"Let me go take a look at the property first. So we drove by the property and a young lady was living there."

Harris talked to the tenant, who confirmed she was moving out, and when asked about the landlord, the tenant named the same guy Harris was talking to about the rental and said he was a great landlord. "He'll fix anything you want. If you want upgrades, he'll give them to you."

Harris was ecstatic. She had done her homework and thought she'd landed the perfect rental property. She even triple-checked the landlord's name from the rental application she was emailed, confirming it with wake county real estate records.

Through email, she was instructed to buy Visa gift cards, scratch the back off and send pictures to who she thought was the landlord.

"Now it's time for my keys. Where are my keys? I'm waiting." However, no keys ever came, and she never heard from who she thought was the landlord again, and she then realized she was just scammed out of all of that money she just put on the gift cards.

She tracked down the real owner of the property and discovered that the scammer just used the real owner's name in the rental ads.

"He duplicated the ad. He copied the listing from Zillow and then he posted it on North Carolina Housing Social Service website. Both Harris and the real owner of the home filed police reports, but Harris knows it's unlikely she'll get her money back.

The website where Harris found the rental, does have scam warnings about fake listings. ABC11 warned you how this scam also happens when renters find a listing on Zillow.

After losing all of that money and still not having a rental, Harris has this advice, "Make sure you meet the person in person, speaking to them on the phone is just the same as texting. You could talk to anybody over the phone, but you want live video or meet the landlord live in person."

When it comes to protecting your money you can never do enough research. A big red flag to this rental scam is when they ask for payment via gift cards, wire the money, or cash app. You have to remember It is very easy to copy legit rental listings.
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