Scam that uses fake ads to highlight real properties continues to trick renters in central NC out of hundreds of dollars

CLAYTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- A rental scam continues to trick renters and take hundreds of dollars from those looking for a new place to call home in the Triangle.

We warned you about this rental scam before, but it continues to catch people off guard and steal their money.
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Clayton Police say they're investigating at least eight cases so far in 2020 in which scammers advertised rental properties they did not own, stole money from unsuspecting renters and left them without a place to stay.

Gerald Wallace thought he found the perfect rental home in Raleigh advertised online.

"It had new floors, new appliances where the house was updated, and it was a beautiful house," he said.

He, along with his finance were excited as it was within their price range; in fact, he said it was a steal. Wallace emailed back and forth with the man who claimed to be the owner who said his work relocated him to Illinois for the next three years.

"He gave us permission to go look around the property. He had sent us, even the paperwork to fill out to send back to him," Wallace said.

Before filling out the paperwork or sending any money, Wallace did some more research on his own and found a big red flag.

"I noticed one of the pictures was screenshotted from a website, and so once I took the picture and I went to the website for which the picture was taken off of, I noticed that there was another listing for that same exact house for a totally different price, but it was through an agency," he said.
Wallace reached out, and learned from the real owner of the home, that Wallace was close to being scammed.

"He said that he had received multiple phone calls about the same property that somebody had offered him that house for a much lower and cheaper price."

That is how this scam works. Scammers copy photos of rental properties off legitimate websites and use the pictures in a fake rental ad. Once contacted by potential renters, the scammers make it sound like they have numerous inquiries. To secure the property, renters are urged to quickly put down a deposit by wiring money or sending gift cards. Then victims send money, and suddenly, the fake renter stops communicating. Clayton Police say the average person in their cases has lost $1,500, with one victim losing as much as $2,700. They also say the average age of the victims is around 30 years old.

Even if you get access to the home, you can still get scammed. We showed you how a Raleigh woman lost $1,700 to the rental scam, in this case, she even got a key to move in all of her belongings, before realizing she never had a deal with the real owner, instead of a scammer.

Here are some tips from Clayton Police on what you need to watch out for when it comes to the rental scam:

  • The advertised price is much lower than that of similar properties.
  • Ads for the property have grammatical and spelling errors, or overuse capital letters.
  • The ad uses uncommon spellings of words, like "favour" instead of "favor."
  • You can only work with an agent. The agent says that the owner is too busy, out of the country, or otherwise unavailable to handle the rental.
  • The owner or agent requires you to sign the lease before you see the rental property.
  • The owner or agent isn't able to let you enter the home or apartment or charges you a fee to view it.
  • The owner or agent uses high-pressure sales tactics. They may urge you to rent quickly before someone else gets the property.
  • Do a search on the owner, real estate management company, and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that's a clue it may be a scam.
  • Visit real estate websites. See if the home you want to rent is also listed in another city. A scammer could have copied the photo or description of another rental to use in their ad.
  • You should not wire money or use prepaid debit card or gift cards as a deposit or payment for the first and last month's rent. It's the same as giving cash; you can't get a refund, even if you find out the offer was a fraud. Also do not give your personal information or Social Security number to anyone unless you know for sure it's not a scam.
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