KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Scammers cashed in on a Knoxville woman afraid she’d miss out on a rental home right in her price range. She was told to act quickly or she’d lose out on renting the home.

As rents, home prices, and inflation surge in today’s highly competitive real estate market, you need to be careful when responding to rental property online offers. The Better Business Bureau said there’s been a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal.

For Gayle Cox, living on a limited fixed income, hunting for a new affordable home to rent has been difficult because rental prices have soared. Soon after posting a message on Facebook, she received this picture of a house to rent for $700 a month.

“I was contacted by someone named Linda Wendy. She had a two-bedroom house in my budget to rent. A friend of mine and I went. We looked at the house. Nice house. Nobody in it,” said Cox.

She texted the supposed landlord and said she was interested in the home.

“She told me I needed to send a $50 application fee. I haven’t rented in 10 years, but I know there is an application fee. So, I did that, she came back and said I have the house,” said Cox.

The first red flag was that there was no background check. Now that the scammer had Cox hooked, it was time to get her money.

“A $300 security deposit, I remember that. Then a couple of days later I sent her another $400. It didn’t really start clicking until after I had sent all the money and she wanted more. Then it was getting time that we had agreed on for me to move. I had to send her another $200 deposit,” said Cox.

It was then that Cox wanted to see inside the place. So, she requested a key but was told there wasn’t one available. This is red flag number two. Cox said she should have realized it was a hoax but she was so desperate for a home that she didn’t.

A week ago, Hayden Smith spoke with Don Dare about the same scam. He’s a real estate agent offering a house that is for sale. The original pictures of the house that Hayden paid to have taken were cloned by the scammers who used them to post a new ad. Smith contacted Dare after a woman told him she sent money to the absentee landlord to rent the place. She called Smith after seeing the for sale sign in front of the house.

Cox said she has learned an expensive lesson.

“Do your research better than I did. If they want you to send them money over PayPal, don’t. Just don’t,” said Cox.

Not only has the Better Business Bureau issued a warning about this scam, but so have the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission.

Tips about this scam include watching out for deals that are too good, scammers lure you in by promising low rents. See the property in person and don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for a place you haven’t seen. Also, watch out for deals that are too good as scammers try to lure you in by promising low rents.

Finally, don’t pay a stranger with cash transfer apps. Many scammers now ask for payments through peer-to-peer apps, like Cash App, instead of wired funds or prepaid debit cards. Only use Cash App with people you know.