RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Raleigh family is now out nearly $2,000 after moving into their new rental home, a rental that was never theirs to move into.
Lavonnda Stilley moved to Raleigh a few weeks ago to be closer to her job. On the Zillow app, she found several homes she was interested in renting. While on the app, she said for each home she was interested in, she clicked on 'Ask a question' and put in the information it asked for.
After inquiring online on several homes, she says a man claiming to own the home she was interested in renting on Nesting Court called her and walked her through how she could get inside the home to see if it fit her needs for her family. When Stilley got to the home, there was a lockbox on the front door, and she says she got the code to get into the lockbox.
"When I got in, there was only one key in there." She adds.
She opened the door with the key from the lockbox, toured the home on her own and then told the man she wanted it while on the phone with him.
"I was so eager to get a house quickly because I had to get the kids into school," Stilley said.
She then wired $1,700 to the man, kept the key from the lockbox and moved in all of their belongings into the home.
Not long after moving in, Stilley says a couple walked into the house.
"They had a key. They walked right in," Stilley said.
The couple told her they were interested in renting the house, but after she told them her family already rented it, the couple left. However, this happened the next day again, as another couple came right into the rental home with the key.
Police got involved along with the actual property management company who's in charge of renting the house, and that's when Stilley learned she had been scammed.
The man she signed a lease with and paid was just a scammer, he never owned the home or was with the property management company. His phone number is now disconnected.
"When I talked to the real property manager, and they asked me why I didn't call the number on the sign outside, I told them because I felt like I was on the phone with you," Stilley said.
She said that since she had the key to the home, she never thought she'd be scammed. "It's crazy. It hurts, but I have to hold it together," she said.
The property management company did allow Stilley and her family to stay on the home a week to find a new rental, but since she lost $1,700 to the scammer, it's tough to start all over.
"The money loss is a very big issue because once we find another place, there is still money we are going to need that we already lost," she said. "If I was by myself, it wouldn't be so heartbreaking, but I have a family involved."
Stilley is trying to pick up the pieces. Her family has set up a GoFundMe to help.
This scam can happen to any rental property. Scammers are looking for opportunities to take advantage of someone looking for a new home. Stilley is not alone in being scammed. In October, a Durham mom lost more than one thousand dollars to a rental scam. In 2016, Troubleshooter Diane Wilson showed how easy it is to get access to a home.
Sites like Rently only charge 99 cents for prospective buyers and renters to access up to 20 listed homes. That leaves the door open for scammers to trick you out of your money.
If you're offered rent at a lower price than advertised that's a big red flag. Also, if all communication is done via email or by phone and they want you to wire the money out of state, that is also a red flag. If there is a rental sign in front of the home, call the number on the sign to confirm you're dealing directly with the company that manages the property. Lastly, do a quick google search of the property address. We told you how scammers tried to rent a home that was actually for sale.
When it comes to Zillow, a spokesperson says, "Zillow goes to great lengths to police activity on our site and fully inform our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves. Our customer support team monitors activity on the site in a number of different ways, and if a listing is found to be fraudulent, it is immediately removed from Zillow. In addition to removing scam listings from our sites as soon as they are detected, the team is also actively screening for possible scams and fraud, preventing many fraudulent listings from getting posted. Zillow has a "Beware of scams and other internet fraud" page on the site, telling users to look out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries, and other valuable information about how to avoid fraudulent listings."