KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The cost of renting an apartment or home is going up in East Tennessee and scammers are taking advantage. One Knoxville woman believed she found a great deal in Fountain City, but all along she was talking with a con artist.

Marie Weston lost $60 to the scammer, but the swindler also tried to use her debit card. Fortunately, the $1200 transaction fell through because Weston had taken quick action. It was the lure of an affordable rental apartment that initiated a lesson never to be forgotten.

Due to a bad knee, Weston can’t navigate the stairs in her townhouse apartment like she used to. So early this month, the mother of 3 adult children, went online to the TN Housing Development Agency’s website looking for a single-level apartment. She had her eye on a duplex in North Knoxville and called who she believed was the landlord.

“She immediately answered the phone, this Miss Lee,” said Watson. “She told me the duplex was available and it was ready to be rented.”

“She said it was for $725 a month. I said, wow, that’s a good deal for Fountain City. I said that’s awful low are you sure? She said, yes, I’m sure.”

Watson said she had already been by the apartment and was interested in it. Miss Lee had her fill out this application, which includes personal information, like her debit card number.

“Then she said, I would have to give her a $60 application fee,” said Watson. “I argued with her and said I had never been in the place and wanted to go inside and look at it before I have her my 60 dollars.”

However, Watson was told because of COVID she couldn’t go inside the house. She agreed then to send the money.

“I said do you have Cash App? She said, hold on for a second, my daughter has Cash App. This lady here is supposed to be her daughter, CasSMck So I cash app’d her daughter the money and then she said I have received it, we are good to go.”

With $60 in the con artist’s possession, more pressure was added. Within minutes after sending the tenant application, Marie received this approval letter – much too fast for any background check to have taken place.

“After she said I got approved, she said you need to give me another $200 to $300 to hold the place before you could move in. I told her once again I would not do that, I have not seen it. Then she hung up the phone in my face.”

Worried about the personal information she included in the application, like her date of birth, credit numbers, plus, the money taken from her debit card, Watson took action.

“I had to stop this account and run to the bank, stop my debit card and get a whole new other account,” explained Watson.

“You go to the apartment in Fountain City and you met the landlord?” asked Don Dare.

“Yes. They told me it was already rented out and the renters were moving in that Monday,” said Watson.

Watson would later get an Amazon alert saying someone tried to use her debit card to purchase a $1200 cellphone. The alert shows the cellphone was on its way to Wilmington, Delaware.

The state housing development agency has issued a warning about this scam, among them:

  • DON’T wire or send money with an app
  • DON’T rent without meeting the landlord in person
  • DON’T let yourself be pressured to pay right away

Upset by the intrusion in her life, Marie has decided to remain in her two-story apartment. “I would never every do this again. Ever, in my life.”

As it turns out, the first name of the real landlord was Lee, the very name that the scammer used. The ad on the housing development agency’s website was real, but the scammer hacked the site, put in their information, and hid their true identity.

Scammers intentionally post lower than average rental prices to lure in potential victims. If possible, you want to see the landlord in person and walk inside the rental property before you give anyone money.