TAMPA, Fla. — The FBI is warning about the risk of rental rip-offs, with more than $396 million lost in 2022. In Manatee County, two women lost $2,000 on a fake rental.
The modest two-bedroom home in Bradenton ticked all the boxes for renter Jennifer Griffith.
Griffith found the ad for the house on Facebook. She texted the person posing as the property manager and asked for a tour. The stranger on the other end of the text string did not meet her at the home, but the door was unlocked when she arrived.
“I went through the front door, I looked around, and I instantly fell in love,” said Griffith, who has been sleeping on a friend’s couch while looking for a place to rent.
Griffith received a lease signed by the man she thought was the landlord and his attorney. She followed instructions to send a $2,000 deposit through an ATM that converted dollars to bitcoin. Seconds later, she received a devastating text from the “landlord” she had been texting with. It read: “Lol. THIS IS A SCAM!”
“My heart just sunk,” Griffith said.
According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, last year, more than 11,700 people reported over $396 million in losses due to real estate scams compared to $213 million in 2020. Although the number of victims was down 14% from 2020, the financial losses increased by 86%.
Veteran real estate agent Vincent Arcuri knows the con. In July, he discovered one of his listings copied and advertised as a rental.
“The number one reason why people get scammed is they get so excited in the moment that they’re forgetting to check all these boxes,” Arcuri said.
He suggests people use a property management company when looking for a rental.
“They are companies that you can easily find. You can check their Better Business Bureau reputations.“
The rental rip-off took all of Griffith’s savings. Now she’s back on the couch.
“It’s very heartbreaking. Very heartbreaking that someone could take someone’s hard-earned money,” she said.
How to spot a fake:
- The landlord or agent will not meet you in person
- You can’t verify the listing through online public records
- You are told to pay via wire transfer or Bitcoin
- The price is way below what you would expect to pay
When doing online digging on any property, look for stickers from the property manager warning of a fake listing and try uploading a picture of the home to Google Images — that’s how ABC Action News found the original ad for the Bradenton home. The rental price is more than double what was posted in the fake listing.