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Making It in San Diego: Prevalence of home rental website scams in San Diego, near-victims weigh in

Scammers using new trick to prey on people looking for home rentals online
Posted at 12:44 PM, Mar 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-04 09:39:57-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diegans are desperate for affordable housing and scammers are taking notice and using new tricks. 10News investigative reporter Jennifer Kastner spoke to the District Attorney's Office about how the internet is flooded right now with local rentals ads that are fake, and how renters can avoid getting burned.

When Nicole Lloyd saw a Craigslist ad for a three-bedroom home in Clairemont for $1450 a month, she jumped on it. “It sounded too good to be true, but [I had to] check it out,” she tells us.

The person who said he was the owner sent her a text. “He said that he was out-of-state,” says Lloyd.

He gave her a code for the front door and told her to let herself in. After she toured the property, he wanted her to wire him money through Western Union before he would prepare a lease.

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Lloyd smelled a scam.

“I probably see about three or four [rental scams] in a week,” explains San Diego County Deputy DA Brendan McHugh.

McHugh says online rental scams are hugely prevalent right now, but most of the time scammers won't let renters see the property before asking for a wire transfer, which makes Lloyd's situation unique. She got to see the home first.

“That's kind of what made us believe it might be real,” Lloyd adds.

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10News found the true owner, a home leasing company called Invitation Homes. The company confirmed that the house was being used in a scam.

A statement from the company to 10News reads, “With regard to the home on Broadlawn Street, we have seen fraudulent activity, but fortunately no one has fallen victim to the attempted scam at this home. We have posted a sign in the home, as we do in all of our homes, alerting potential residents of potential scams so that they that will be particularly vigilant. We have asked Craigslist to remove the fraudulent listing, which they have (we do not advertise on Craigslist), and we have turned off the self-show option on the home so that prospective residents are able to view the home only if accompanied by an Invitation Homes agent.”

“I was on, Zillow, Craigslist and a few other recommended [sites] that people gave me,” says Rebecca Weinrib.

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Weinrib admits that even she almost fell for online rental scams when she was recently looking for a place in Little Italy.

“I went to law school. I run a company. I started a nonprofit…however, I don't remember seeing this situation two years ago when I was renting,” she adds.

Weinrib was bombarded with requests to send money before she was allowed to see the properties. “A lot of them would say, ‘Wire it.’” She tells us a lot of them would also tell her that they don’t live locally.

“You'll often see these scams saying that the person you need to talk to is deployed so just send the money and information now and we'll deal with it later,” says McHugh. He adds, “If you can't go inside and see the property before you're required to exchange money or personal identifying information, that's another huge red flag.”

McHugh also says that it's best to be cautious when landlords are using auto-generated email addresses and when landlords post ads that contain several grammatical errors.