KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knoxville real estate agent is warning to prospective renters in the area. This comes after discovering that one of his listings was utilized in a scam that ended with one woman losing $1500 and what she thought was a great rental deal.

With the price of rental homes through the roof in East Tennessee, scammers are taking advantage of inflation. The bad actors are hijacking authentic real estate listings by placing a modified ad on another site at an unrealistic price all to lure in unsuspecting victims.

This scam has been around for years, but with rent nearly doubling over the last two to three years, scammers are to make a windfall if they can convince enough people to pay $700 a month instead of $1400.

After his listing was used in the scam, Hayden Smith had to explain to an angry would-be renter that the house he is showing is not for rent. It’s a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bath, remodeled home that’s been on the market for about a month. The current owner of the property moved out of town. A person who saw the for sale sign contacted Hayden last week.

“The reason she gave me a call is kind of funny. She told me, she said you need to come get your sign out of my yard. Immediately, that raised a red flag for me because this house is not for rent, it is for sale,” said Smith.

The woman told Smith, she sent the would-be landlord a lot of money through CashApp.

“She was scammed out of $1,500. He was charging $700 rent, $700 down payment, and a $100 application fee,” said Smith. “For me, it raises a red flag. Because nothing is that cheap anymore, especially here.”

Smith said the picture used in the fake listing was stolen by the scammer from the listing photographs he paid for.

“I filled out an inquiry through Facebook Marketplace. I was able to actually get in contact with the scammer,” said Smith.

Here is one of the scammer’s responses to Smith.

“That sale sign is still in the yard because I’m not in town. But you have nothing to worry about it will be taken care of,” reads one message.

From the conversation with the scammer, Smith noticed several red flags.

“On top of the $1,400, the $700 down payment and then the rent, he is actually charging a $100 application fee. He’s talking about he lives in Georgia, supposedly. And he can’t deliver the keys and meet me in person. On top of the $700 rent, this is red flag number two,” said Smith.

Smith believes that the scammer used the photos from the real Zillow listing to create the scam listing.

“So the scammer typed in the address to Zillow. Looks like they screenshotted all the pictures we had taken and posted them for rent on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist,” said Smith.

There are several red flags that can help you identify rental scams.

  • The landlord lives out of the state and the landlord can’t show you the place first.
  • They’re eager and ready to make a deal with no background info.
  • They want you to pay right away.
  • They instruct you to wire money
  • The asking rent is too good to be true.

“My main concern is it is targeting people and they are losing money,” said Smith.

Smith’s advice is to never send money to a landlord you haven’t seen in person.

“For some people, they don’t have $1500 to throw out,” said Smith.

These scammers are professionals, they’re really good at what they do. A fake site meaning to cheat you out of money should be reported to the police. They’ll need a screenshot of the rental listing and any emails you exchanged with the con artist. Additionally, report the listing to the website where it’s advertised, and report fraud to the FTC.