Susan Chester never imagined she’d be living out of her SUV.  

A financial setback, after falling victim to a scam, has forced her to temporarily sleep in the back of her car.  

Putting money aside monthly from her disability check, Susan had saved over $2,000  dollars and was looking forward to renting a small 3-bedroom home in Knoxville.

She found the rental on Craigslist, the popular online site used by millions of people. It’s the “go-to” place for many rental seekers… and rental scammers. 

After sending an inquiry to the co-called landlord, she got an email response.

“It says, ‘Hi, thanks for getting in touch with me, my house is still available for rent. I’m renting because I’m relocating to Alabama for a new job.’ He sends me pictures of the house interior and exterior. Explains to me what the rent would be…”

Susan was impressed with pictures of the place. The interior had recently been remodeled. 

She said all correspondence was by email. 

WATE 6 On Your Side is not featuring the name because it was stolen from the real owner’s identity.

“At that point I gave him the initial deposit,” Susan said. “He provided me with a lease agreement of the residence.”

According to the lease agreement the scammer sent to Susan, the rent included water, gas, and electricity: A good deal for $750 dollars a month. 

Susan said she had not checked out the house before sending her rent money.

“I put down $2,250, which would be three payments – the first month, the last month and security,” Susan said. “It was sent via Walmart gift card because [he said] his Pay Pal account was down.”

Following the phony landlord’s directions, she showed the photocopy receipts of her payments sent October 17th. 

“Do it on the gift card, I could take a photo of it and email it to him. He would have a receipt to verify the amount I paid that was on the card,” Susan explained. “I was told the keys were being sent overnight to me. He had them. But they didn’t show up. That’s when I said, ‘Okay…’ I was had.”

“You should always be able to talk and meet with the landlord,” says Laura Slyman, President of the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors, adding that he scammer who stole from Susan Chester knew how to target her. 

“The scammer is more in tune with the sympathy story,” Slyman said. “Such as, ‘I had to leave town quickly for my Uncle who is dying. I really don’t care how much money I’m getting, I just want a good family to take care of my house because eventually I’m coming back to it.’ There is the story, ‘I can’t get you the keys right now. You’re welcome to go ahead and re-key or I can overnight them to you.’ Or: ‘It’s reduced rent rate, have as many pets as you want.’ The sympathy is there.”  

The last correspondence was: “Please respond to me,” Susan wrote. Susan has sent numerous emails since last month to no avail. “He will not respond to me at all.”

WATE 6 On Your Side checked on Zillow, an online real estate database company, the same home had been for rent for $1,200 dollars a month — the latest listing was last month.

“I was had,” Susan said. “I just don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve been through.”