Local family loses thousands in rental scam

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Rental scams are all too common these days. One local mom thought she took the proper precautions. But it ended up costing her family big money. Contact 13 looks at what you need to know when renting.

"It displaced our family. It's already hard enough to make it," Brianna Sharp.

She and her family recently tried renting this valley home. She found the rental property on Craigslist.

"It was huge. It was a 3 bedroom, upstairs, downstairs home," Brianna.

The owner says he lives in Texas. But he set up a day when Brianna and other potential-tenants could view the home, by providing an access code to open a lock box with the house key.

"We all went in and viewed the home. It was a beautiful home. Everybody was interested," Brianna.

Two days later, Brianna says she was thrilled to learn her application was accepted. The homeowner sent this lease, plus provided his bank account information so Brianna could make a deposit of $2,200 for first and last month's rent.

"We had everything packed up; dogs, kids, U-Haul. Drove to the home, the access code didn't work," Brianna.

That's when her husband discovered a for rent sign at the side of the house, listing a company called Waypoint as the property manager.

"Somebody had obviously moved it," Brianna.

Brianna called Waypoint. But their office was already closed for the day. And the homeowner wasn't answering his phone.

"That night we actually slept in our car," Brianna.

The next day, Brianna spoke with Waypoint. That's when she learned she was never dealing with the real homeowner, and the $2,200 she paid was gone.

"That was our savings, plus a loan from a family member," Brianna.

With no where else to turn, Brianna reached out to Contact 13. We called Waypoint, asking how the scam artist was able to provide access to this house. But the Arizona-based company never provided an answer. So we reached out to a local property manager.

"We've had people go into properties and change the locks, rekey it, and put their own lock box on," says Ashley Hawks, Broker and Owner of Black & Cherry Real Estate Group.

She says renters should beware of any owner allowing you inside their home without supervision.

"Just logically speaking, I know I wouldn't give access to my property to someone I didn't know," says Hawks.

So here's 3 steps you should take before renting any home. First, look up the property owner. It's public information available online for free. And do a quick property search on a second website like Zillow or Trulia. Second, meet with the owner in person for a walk-through of the home.

"I would say never sign anything, never give anyone any sort of money, until you have an opportunity to meet the person," says Hawks.

She says, don't be afraid to ask for identification. And third, go over the lease carefully.

"There should be a place of payment. There should be information for who to contact for repairs. A working phone number, possibly an email," says Hawks.

As for Brianna, she's learned her lesson and has this warning.

"Do as much research as possible, and don't make hasty decisions," Brianna.

Here's something else to remember, Nevada law says a lease must be notarized when you're working directly with a homeowner. So if the owner isn't willing to verify their identity, beware!

Waypoint offers these recommendations on what renters can do to protect themselves from fraud: 
 
There are many ways to recognize scams; however, there are clear warning signs typically in the first communication to watch out for:

-Most scams request a wire transfer, and provide a convincing story as to why. Never wire funds to anyone you haven't met.

-Be cautious of the owner who lives abroad. Many people claim to be either interested in selling, renting or purchasing a home due to being missionaries, UN workers or in the branch of the military.

-Look out for the typos and sob stories. British spelling of words and stories of family or financial troubles are a clear signs of a rental scam.
 
Here are some tips in case you think you are being scammed:

-Research the property address to see if a professional property management company is listing the property. If so, call or visit their website to verify the listing.

-Report the listing on the site you found it on, for example, Zillow, Craigslist, etc.

-Report the information to the FTC, local authorities, and Internet Fraud Complaint Center. Include as much information as possible, specifically if money was wired or transferred to the recipient.

Include the following info: the name and address of the sender, the send location, the date and amount of the transfer, the transfer fee, the date and actual location of the receipt, the name of the receiver, any information recorded regarding the receiver's identification, the reference number for the transfer, and the details of the nature of the issue and communication.

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