SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A Sevierville homeowner went to check on a house she was preparing to sell and discovered the locks had been changed and a family was living inside. It turns out the home had been listed for rent on Facebook Marketplace without her knowledge.
Deborah and Bruce Osborne were planning to sell the house and needed to do some finishing touches before putting it on the market. When Deborah Osborne arrived at the home, she discovered the locks had been changed and could see unfamiliar belongings inside.
“I was in shock, disbelief, and panic all at the same time about what was going on,” she said.
After calling Bruce Osborne, who called the police, a family arrived at the home. They thought they had legally leased the home from a listing on Facebook Marketplace. They paid nearly $3000 to the scammer, who instructed them to enter the home through a screen door and then a window.
“I feel really horrible for people who are being scammed, and that’s one of our concerns right now, I mean we want the house to sell, but more than that we don’t want people to continue being hurt like this,” Bruce Osborne said.
Although the Osbornes were shocked at the situation, they are now more concerned about the family and others who may get scammed.
“They’re not picking on people with a lot of means, these are desperate people that are looking for a home, and they see something that looks like a really good bargain, a really good deal, and they jump on it, and the next thing they’re out thousands of dollars,” Bruce Osborne said.
Osborne’s realtor Jon Dempersmier posted a sign in the window of the home warning people who may fall for the same scam. Through doing this, he was able to get the scammer’s contact information from someone else who was in contact with him about the home.
“They saw the sign and called me, and I said look would you mind texting me your communications which they did, so then I texted that same number and the scammer responded to it,” Dempersmier said.
The house was listed several more times after the incident, so he posted a warning on Facebook, but it was removed. He said he got a message that the post violated guidelines, and he is now banned from using Marketplace. He has advice for other renters looking for a deal.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. If someone wants you to send them money via a web application like CashApp or Venmo, and they don’t want a landlord themselves or someone to meet them at the property, you’re probably looking at a scam,” he said.
He also said the Sevierville Police Department is looking into the incident and is in contact with Facebook.