Online Rental Scam Costing South Floridians Thousands Of Dollars

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Criminals are re-inventing an old scam in South Florida.

It involves renting apartments and houses that they do not own.

As CBS4’s David Sutta reports, if you fall victim to the scam you will likely lose your money.

In South Florida is seems criminals invent new schemes every day.

This latest one Jeff Lehman stumbled upon by accident.

“I started getting multiple calls regarding my house for rent,” Jeffrey Lehman told CBS4.  “Which I thought was just an error, because my house is for sale.”

But after several calls, he inquired.

“’Where did you get this information for the rent,’” he asked one of the callers. “One of the people were nice enough to forward me a copy of the ad.”

Using pictures from his for sale listing, someone had listed his home on a free classified website for rent, at a bargain price.

Curious, he replied to the ad.

“I applied for the rental on my own house,” he said. “And needless to say after filling out the application, I was approved.”

The owner claimed they were out of town, but sent instructions to deposit rent into a Chase account in exchange for the keys.

“I was stunned,” Lehman said. “I was stunned only because I know the people here. Rents are so high and this was such a good deal, how many people could have lost money to this type of scam.  And that’s what is really irritating.”

Sadly people are falling for these rental scams.

“She told me that she only needed the deposit and I could move in on Feb 1st,”  Jorge Yunis recalls.

Yunis handed over $1500 dollars for a 2/2 in Doral.

On move in day his new landlord stopped taking his calls.  It turned out she didn’t own the apartment.

Even with a copy of her driver’s license, he has not been able to get his money back.

“I’m a fool.  I’m a total fool,” Yunis says.

The scam artist that took Jorge also took the real owner of the apartment.

“I think she’s a professional.”  the landlord told CBS4.  He asked not to be identified out of embarrassment but agreed to share how he was scammed, what mistake he made.

“My mistake was I didn’t wait to have the money in cash and let her move in with the deposit,” he said.

The rent checks bounced.  It took three months to evict her.  In the meantime she listed the apartment for rent, and countless people, like Jorge fell victim.

“I went straight to the Doral police department and I made the report and I told them this is what’s going on,” the landlord told CBS4.

Despite multiple police reports to Doral Police, the case hasn’t moved.

Lehman has filed a report with Miami Police this week.  He hopes the Chase bank account number his scam artist provided could be a lead.

In the meantime Lehman, who is also a realtor, is recommending renters be vigilant; check out your landlord before you hand over money.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” he said.  “Ask them for their identification. Look at their driver’s license. Make sure that they are the person who signed the lease, and that way you can eliminate a lot of their problems.”

A couple of other steps you can take is use a realtor to find your rental.

They will make sure you’re are renting from the owner.

If you must go it alone, check online yourself.  You can do that on the property appraisers’ website.

Here are the links to the appraisers’ offices in South Florida:

Broward County: bcpa.net

Miami-Dade County: miamidade.gov

Monroe County: qpublic.schneidercorp.com

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