Rent scammer tells targets to look in windows

Posted at 6:34 PM, Dec 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-02 21:34:25-05

San Diego families looking for a break on the county's sky high rent are the target of a creepy new scam involving Zillow.

San Diego realtor Martha Chen Falch uncovered it this week, when one of her clients asked her to look into a listing for a four-bedroom home listed for sale in the La Jolla Colony neighborhood of University City. 

"I believe there is no free lunch, but then for people who want good deals, they believe there is," Chen Falch said. 

Chen Falch's skepticism helped her sniff out the scam. She first contacted the seller through the home's information page on Zillow.

"And it was a scammer that got back to me," she said. 

She said she got an incoherent, grammatically incorrect email from a man who claimed to be the owner. The home was listed for $1 million, but the man said the house was actually rent to own for $1,000 a month, and he'd already moved out of town. 

The area has the eighth highest rent in the county, at an average $2,165 a month, according to Marketpointe Realty Advisors.

"The email is totally just ridiculous! Now you're asking for rent for $1,000 and I need to contact you as soon as possible, and you're telling me your whole family story? Doesn't make any sense," Chen Falch said. 

The rambling letter says to go by the house, and to peek into the windows. But the home is in a gated community, a red flag. 

"If people want to get in, they can get in, they just follow the cars in," Chen Falch said.

10News called the number listed on the email. A Google Voice service connected to a man with a thick accent who had a 5 to 6 second delay between his responses. He said he owned the house.

But Chen Falch dug up the county records and found the real owner, who is still local. 10News called the owner and informed her of the scam. She read the scammer's email and said she felt very unsafe. 

The home is now listed correctly on Zillow for $4,500 a month to rent.