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Risky Rentals: Beware of hijacked ads

Tucson couple loses hundreds of dollars in scam
Nearly half of all rental property listings on the internet are fake, BBB investigation finds
Posted at 7:22 AM, Feb 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 17:13:00-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — A Tucson couple says their search for a dream home turned into a nightmare after they fell victim to an online rental scam and they want to get the word out to keep it from happening to others. Jessica and Amadi Cannon say they were looking for a nice place to live and ended up with a string of emails filled with deception and it ended with them losing a big chunk of their savings.

It all started on February, 12th when Jessica Cannon found an ad on Craigslist for a rental home at the 9000 block of East Orchid Vine Drive in Rita Ranch. The couple was excited about the opportunity and reached out a man named "Mr. David."

"I came across the house it was listed for $900 a month with all utilities included. It's not an area where I expected to be scammed."

Jessica received a call from "Mr. David" at around 6 am on February 12 and set up a time to tour the home. According to Jessica he stressed that the home was getting lots of interest and they had to act fast. Hours later the couple went to checkout the property.

"I got there at about 10 a.m. and I let him know. That's when he sent via text message the code for the lock box so we could get into the home and view it. He said to remain on the phone with him the entire time for security purposes,".

The couple wanted the home and had another call with the scammer and were told what to do.

"He said this is the process I'm going to send you my bank account info that way you can send me the $900 deposit. I'm going to send you the rental application via email. Print it out, fill it out and send it back to me,"

The Cannons filled out the application with their names, birth dates and last 3 addresses. Then they were quickly approved and sent the deposit.

"We took a screen shot of the $900 that I sent via Chase quick pay with Zelle," Jessica said.

They went back to the home 24 hours later for the key and realized they were scammed.

"I discovered a for rent sign in front of the house we got up to the front door there's a scam alert on the front door."

Jessica called the real owner American Homes 4 Rent and found out the home was off the market and was actually renting for over $1,300 per month.

"They have the first and last name of both me and my husband. How old we are what our current address is and our past two addresses because they wanted rental history. No social security numbers or bank account numbers nothing like that of mine," Cannon said.

KGUN 9 reached out to Chase Bank and Tucson Police, both confirmed that the Cannons case is under investigation. According to Chase guidelines using the Zelle app to make the payment makes it impossible to retrieve the money. Chase and American Homes 4 Rent released the following statements:

"Customers are never responsible for digital transactions they didn't make. Unfortunately, we can't recover the funds as we have confirmed that the customers had authorized the payment after seeing Chase's on-screen warnings. Since the customers shared with us that they believe that they were the victims of a scam we will investigate and take necessary action. This is a really unfortunate situation, but we hope this example serves as a reminder to consumers to only send money to people they know and trust," a Chase spokesperson said.

"Although American Homes 4 Rent does not provide comment on specific incidents, we do have a range of tools in place to counter and reduce the risk of rental scams occurring at our properties (for example, we partner with industry affiliates to reduce fraud, prominently brand and identify homes, post fraud stickers in homes, employ a team to constantly search for and flag fraudulent ads, track fraud, and report fraud to authorities). We strive to educate consumers on how to avoid rental scams and work with technology, listing, and industry partners to root out fraud and enhance protections. We do not list on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other sites where fraud is most prevalent," American Homes 4 Rent said.

Bobby Verenna with EXP Realty owns a different property and says someone tried to hijack his rental ad last fall, but luckily he found out in time to stop the victim from losing money. He tried to catch the culprit but had no luck. He also says that owners should put signs inside of their properties to make sure renters know exactly who to call.

"A scammer can hijack a for sale property taking the for sale sign down, changing the locks and renting it out to a poor unsuspecting tenant who will go as far as paying the money and moving in," Verenna said.

According to the Federal Trade Commission renters should:

Never pay with a wire transfer and always visit the property in person and talk to neighbors.

Experts also say don't give a security deposit before signing a lease and always do a Google search of the address and picture of the house to check for scam alerts on the property.

Now the Cannons are starting over and they're hoping to keep the same thing from happening to another family.

"$900 to somebody who's paycheck to paycheck is a pretty heavy blow. I hope they get caught all I can say is karma will come around when its ready," Cannon said.

Tucson Police Rental Safety Tips:

Do your homework

Is the rate they are offering below the market rate? If so, that can be a sign of a scam.

Research the property to determine if the location actually exists. If the location is at a condo or resort, call to verify the details provided.

Do not rely solely on email to contact the owner and be wary of foreign telephone numbers.

Check to see if there are additional rental listings for the property under another owner's name.

Ask for additional photos. A legitimate owner or property manager should be able to provide additional photos. You can also do a reverse image search to see where else the images are being used.

Ask for additional photos. A legitimate owner or property manager should be able to provide additional photos. You can also do a reverse image search to see where else the images are being used.

Get a copy of the contract and review it completely before you send any deposit money.

DO NOT be rushed into a decision. Immediacy is a RED FLAG. Scammers often place a large amount of pressure to complete the deal or you will lose out, thus creating a false sense of urgency.

DO NOT be rushed into a decision. Immediacy is a RED FLAG. Scammers often place a large amount of pressure to complete the deal or you will lose out, thus creating a false sense of urgency.

DO NOT wire money or pay with a gift card or prepaid card. Once the scammer collects the money, it is almost impossible to get it back. If you can, pay for a rental with a credit card. Credit cards generally offer more consumer protection.

If you sent money to a scammer, immediately contact the company you used to send the money (i.e. your bank, Western Union, iTunes, Google Play, etc.) and alert them about the fraudulent transaction. They may not be able to get your money back, but it is important to alert them of fraud.

If the scam originated online, such as through email, social media or online classifieds, a report should be made to the Internet Criminal Complaint Center.

Internet Crime Complaint Center:

File a complaint - https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Federal Trade Commission:

Report a scam - https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

To keep up to date about current scams, consider registering for scam alerts from the FTC www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

Better Business Bureau:

Report a scam - https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/reportscam

Current scams - https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us

If you lost money, or have information to believe these criminals are in the local area, a local police report may also be appropriate.

Tucson Police Department:

Online reporting - https://www.tucsonaz.gov/apps/crime-reporting/