Troubleshooters: 2 friends get caught up in rental scam. Here's how to protect yourself

"It looked legit and the Facebook buyer looked legit," said Kota Loves of South Philadelphia.

ByNydia Han and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Friday, September 23, 2022
2 friends get caught up in rental scam. Here's how to protect yourself
Two friends fell in love with a house listed for rent on Facebook Marketplace. The listing looked legit, according to Kota Loves of South Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A consumer alert for anyone looking to rent a house.

The FBI is warning of a major increase in real estate and rental scams in the last few years. Nationwide in 2021, American consumers lost more than $350 million. That's a 64% increase from the previous year.

Jen Hombach and Kota Loves, two friends from South Philadelphia, fell in love with a house listed for rent on Facebook Marketplace.

"We were stoked. We were like this is it," said Hombach.

"It looked legit and the Facebook buyer looked legit," said Loves.

The listing was for four bedrooms for $2,000 in Manayunk. So Hombach reached out about it.

"So the Marketplace was a wife's account -- a woman's account -- and it was her husband who reached out to me," Hombach said.

Hombach said the man told her she couldn't do a walkthrough of the property for another week because the current tenants were still there. But he sent her a video.

"So I felt confident that it was what it was," Hombach said.

Hombach sent the alleged landlord money through Zelle for a credit check. A total of $150 for both her and Loves.

"And then he said a few hours later, you're approved, your credit check came back," said Hombach.

Then Hombach was told to send a security deposit to remove the listing from Facebook.

"So I sent him $500," she said.

"When I looked over this particular transaction, it's full of red flags," said Trent Pettus with the Temple University Real Estate Institute.

Pettus said they include being told you can't see the property in person, pressuring you to pay quickly or risk losing out on the deal, requiring you send money via a payment app or wire transfer, and that below-market rental rate.

"Also, I found it odd that it happened so fast," he said. "They didn't do an employment verification. They didn't verify income."

"We're not going to do this in one day, maybe two or three," he added.

Another red flag? The person who posted on Facebook was different from the person Hombach talked to and she was instructed to send her payment to yet another name.

"That's definitely a red flag that you don't even know who you you're talking to," said Pettus.

Pettus advises consumers to do their homework.

"Go to public records, pull it up and see who is the owner of this property and ask for proof. If I'm dealing with you on the internet, show me an ID," said Pettus.

If you're renting a property remotely, Pettus advises you to connect through Zoom or FaceTime to see the landlord.

"Whether you're going to rent or buy, Google the address," he said. "The first thing I noticed was a picture of the house. It says on Facebook that is a ranch-style house. Well, the ranch is one story. The picture is a two-story dwelling."

Hombach and Loves did finally go to the house and the real owner answered the door.

"She was like, 'This is not for rent. I've lived here for years, and you're not the first people to come walking around this place,'" said Hombach.

In this case, the red flags were legit, but the listing was not. The whole thing was a scam.

"I was sad, I was really sad," said Loves.

One more thing, especially if you have to rent a property sight unseen, use a reputable, licensed real estate broker or established property management company with a fixed brick-and-mortar location.

Troubleshooters resources:

Facebook Commerce Policies

Facebook Marketplace on how to avoid scams

Reporting a seller

Shopping Safely

How to avoid scams on Facebook