Police warn about rental home Internet scam

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Police nationwide are fighting scam artists who use photos of homes for sale and advertise them as rentals.

"I was mad, I was really angry," said Linda Garrett, a victim of the scam.

It all started when Garrett put her house on the market, and her realtor posted the information on the Internet.

Garrett used Zillow, Realtor.com, Military.com and several other "for sale" web sites, when she started noticing some unusual happenings.

"We had about five people stop by the house, asking questions about it," Garrett said. "Zillow had it up for rent at $500 a month."

So Garrett did some research and using the contact information listed on the rental ad, she contacted the lister.

"I saw your ad on Zillow and I was really curious," Garrett said.

The lister responded, "Well if you're interested, I tried to sell my house and I couldn't get the price I wanted, so I took it off the market for sale and now the money isn't important, I'm out of the state and I just want somebody that will take good care of it, and as soon as you send me the money and your check is cleared, I will send you the lease agreement and the keys."

Garrett's story is becoming common nationwide. The Montgomery Police Department's Cyber Crimes unit says it's been fighting scams like this for years.

"Yes, it is a scam that's occurring nationwide, largely coming from overseas," Sgt. Mark Davis said. "These people are taking legitimate home sales postings, copying the information and putting it out for rent."

Cyber Crimes supervisor Sgt. Davis says this particular scam comes with a consistent red flag.

"You'll have email correspondence and they'll claim that they've moved out of state, or that they've moved out of the country," Sgt. Davis said.

The same story Linda heard before she put an end to her situation.

"He does not have my permission; he does not have authority to list my house for rent. I put my big girl panties on and I called the police, and I called the realtor, and I went online and shut him down," Garrett said.

"Criminals will always look for an opportunity to get something for nothing," Sgt. Davis said. "One of the things we have to do, is we have to educate people. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Realtors recommend Googling the property address, and contact the listing agent to make sure you get the correct information.

If someone is not available to meet you face-to-face to discuss or show you the rental property, that is a red flag.

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