RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Richmond family calls said they paid a so-called homeowner more than $14,000 to rent a house that allegedly belonged to him. Months later, Kelvin White received an eviction notice, and soon discovered he was scammed.
White, 62, saw an online ad for a dream retirement home off Warwick Road in south Richmond nearly a year ago. He had recently retired from working for the Department of Defense for 28 years, packing hazardous chemicals. His wife is also disabled.
"(The ad) had this address and then it had ‘rent-to-own,’" said White.
White called the number listed on the ad and spoke to the alleged homeowner over the phone. NBC12 is not naming the alleged scammer at this point since he hasn’t yet been charged with a crime. The alleged homeowner had an associate show Kelvin the inside of the house since the man claimed he was out of town.
"He showed me the house, and I told him I liked it,” said White.
It’s also still unclear how the scammer was able to get access to the house, perhaps changing the locks, so he could give the White family a set of keys.
White agreed to pay $14,200 to live in the house for a year. That money was then supposed to be put towards a down payment to buy the home. It was also a large portion of White’s retirement savings.
“He said after a year, I start the purchasing of the home,” said White.
The man even gave White a signed lease, which included an alleged attorney’s signature.
White paid the man two cashier’s checks for $7,100 each. In return, the man gave White keys to the home.
Everything was fine for months. The family even paid utility bills to the city. But White ultimately received an eviction notice and turned to a family advocate, Markeita Boyd, for help.
“Immediately I stated, ‘You have been scammed,’” said Boyd, who is helping the family in court proceedings and also to find a new, affordable place to live.
City property records show the home went into foreclosure two years ago. The current owner is listed as the “US Bank.”
The man White paid is nowhere to be found, and neither is the $14,200.
“The bank said he had already withdrew the money, and the phone number was off,” said White. “I felt pitiful. I felt like I had been scammed.”
The eviction notice says White has until Oct. 24 to vacate the property. White and his wife say they’re now in a state of desperation.
“I'll have no place to live. I'll be homeless."
White is battling in court to stay in the home until Nov. 15, which would have been the end of what he thought was his lease.
“Just give us until Nov. 15 to find him somewhere to live. We will greatly appreciate it, even if we lose the $14,200,” said Boyd.
Legal experts said that there’s not much the family can do. The fictitious lease doesn’t allow them any actual rights to the property. Unless police or the White family can track down the scammer, they won’t be able to press charges or sue to recover the money.
Housing advocates say online ads for rental homes can be full of red flags. For example, an ad not showing the inside of a home may be suspect. However, in White’s case, he was ultimately able to view the entire house.
Often times, scammers demand money upfront. Sometimes, they ask for the money to be sent overseas. Keep in mind, the real homeowner has no idea their house is being falsely advertised.
Never wire money. You can also investigate the property yourself by Googling it, and checking city property records to confirm who actually owns the home, that it’s not in foreclosure, or on any other real estate website.
NBC12 reached out to the owners and attorneys listed for the property in court and city records and hasn’t yet heard back.
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