“Our dreams were crushed” | Rental scams on the rise as crooks take advantage of pandemic

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Crafty scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, convincing people to hand over thousands of dollars.

Rental scams are on the rise, likely due to a rise in rent and home prices within the last 18 months, according to the Northeast Tenn. Association of Realtors.

“We were all happy, we were so excited and then all of our dreams were just crushed in a day and we were just like, they got us,” said Katie Goodyear who fell victim to a nasty rental scam.

Goodyear and her family are in the market for a home, and they found the perfect house for rent in a listing on Craigslist; or, so they thought.

“I think I was so excited about the fact that this was happening that I ignored every red flag there was. We just thought we had ourselves our little forever home,” said Goodyear.

She contacted who she believed owned the home on the website and communicated with them through text message. This person wove up a believable story, complete with fake rental documents for her to fill out and sign. The scammers told Goodyear they needed to move someone into the home quickly, and did not want it sitting empty in the winter months as they had moved out of town.

Further, they said Goodyear could not see inside the home or meet with them in person due to COVID-19.

“If it wasn’t for the coronavirus this would not of happened, because that’s the reason we were not meeting up with them,” said Goodyear. “I told him I wanted to actually speak to someone, I said I’ve not spoken to anyone this entire time.”

She realized she had been scammed after she sent the crooks $2,400 through the mobile money transferring service Cash App, and they still tried to get her to send another $1,200 threatening she would lose the listing. The cat was out of the bag when she looked up the so-called renter’s Facebook profile, messaged them, and realized she had been given a fake name.

“She said, ‘no we have never spoken.’ She told me that they were previously scammed as well,” said Goodyear.

The scammers used the ID’s of their last victims to dupe the next.

“They are really good at it. Really good at it. It’s a profession,” said Goodyear.

The Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors says Craigslist is a popular platform for scammers, and they often steal photos and information of real listings to make fake ads, which is exactly what happened to the Goodyear family.

“They’ve got all of the information they need basically, they just have to go in and look and copy and paste the pictures. They can learn how many bedrooms and bathrooms the house has, you can find pretty much all of that information through a Google search,” said local Remax Checkmate realtor Karissa Winstead.

If a price or situation seems too good to be true, Winstead advises that should already be a red flag. She added a property owner should not get away with refusing to let you see it in person.

“I’m always encouraging people to go inside and look for themselves. If anything, do a virtual tour. Just have that person show you that they are real on camera and then take you through the house and show you virtually,” said Winstead.

Goodyear hopes this scam does not trick another family, and says those looking to rent should be aware of the warning signs she missed.

“Any lack of willingness to meet up because measures can be taken,” said Goodyear. “I would never have done this at all if it weren’t for this pandemic.”

Some other red flags to pay attention to include the property owner being conveniently “out of town” or unable to meet, unable to show you the inside of the home, or offering a price that is extremely lower than average. Also a sign of a scam can be if they are trying to fast-track your payment very quickly in just a few days or less; or if they want you to pay through an application like Cash App or wire money quickly.

The Goodyear family says when they drove by the Kingsport home to at least see the outside, they noticed a “for sale” sign in the yard associated with a realty company. The scammer dismissed this when they brought it up to them. Winstead advises if you are looking at a listing online and see a “for sale” sign like this, call the number for the realtor to make sure the listing you found online is not fake.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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