Housing scammers using pandemic to take advantage of potential buyers, renters

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Rental and home-for-sale scams are back with a new twist. The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the country and criminals are using the situation to their advantage.

The Federal Trade Commission says home buying and rental scams are multiplying with countless fake ads on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

The scheme involves crooks who post a fake ad of a house they claim to be their own. They find information about a legitimate property online and they copy the ad while taking “ownership” with a fake listing on a different platform.

Four weeks ago, Barbara Mynatt sold her house. Built in 1961, Mynatt lived in the Glenwood Village home from the age of 2 until her marriage.

“My parents both passed away like a year-and-a-half apart,” she said.

About 10 years ago, Barbara bought the house from her sister and brother. She lived in it for a while, even rented it, then recently decided to sell it.

“Well I put it up for sale, bittersweet that I put it up for sale,” she said. The home went up for sale on Labor Day and sold four days later. Then, a few days ago, something strange happened.

“This is the text with the picture that my sister sent me from Marketplace showing my house,” she said. “Where it was for rent. She asked me, ‘Are you renting it again?’ I said, ‘No.’

“Then I got a message from someone on Facebook wanting to know if I was the owner. I said, ‘Yes I am.’ He said he’s been contacted and speaking through email about the house for rent.”

In the message Mynatt received she was told the person trying to rent the home, the scammer, claimed to be unable to show it because of the coronavirus, but would take the $850 in advance then provide the key.

“They would give them the key once they paid the money,” Mynatt said.

In a similar scam, a year ago, developers Terri and Bill Terry told us about restoring this home in North Knoxville and listing it for rent.

Without their knowledge, however, a young couple showed up to see the house. A neighbor who saw the couple and knows the Terrys phoned them.

Criminals are very good at this scam and make any potential tenant believe everything they say quickly. A rental home or a home for sale should always be visited before there’s any exchanged of money.

If there is a real estate agent sign in front of the residence, contact that agent first before acting on any email you may have received. Avoid giving away information such as credit card details or a credit check.

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