PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An exploding real estate market has some renters and buyers desperate to get into a home.
Ricardo Weeks, owner of "Weeks Realty Specialists," is accused of exploiting that desperation.
He calls it "a creative property acquisition strategy." But victims, including Karla Morales, said he used Facebook Marketplace and other social media sales platforms to prey on victims using a real estate scheme.
"It's a beautiful house," Morales said, pointing at the Levittown home she expected to move into in August.
Morales said her existing home was being sold by the landlord, but she found the fully renovated home on Facebook Marketplace for $1,800 in rent.
"He explained to us that he works directly with investors, that they're not realtors," she said. "And they're going to rent it to us."
Morales signed a contract with Ricardo Weeks that she thought would allow her to rent to own.
She paid $3,600 upfront toward the first month's rent and a security deposit in early July.
Weeks told Morales he was in the process of purchasing the home but she soon discovered on her own that his deal fell through.
"He apologized and he has more houses to offer me," she said.
She later complained to Bristol police.
Mark Culver is the owner of the property.
"He seemed legitimate," he said. "The only thing that made me nervous was that it was that easy."
Culver said after listing the property on his own on Zillow, Ricardo Weeks contacted him and quickly offered full price and to waive inspections.
Weeks put a $1,000 deposit down instead of the $10,000 Culver wanted, but Weeks said he could finalize the purchase in 10 days.
In the meantime, Weeks asked Culver if potential renters could see the property.
"The way he explained it was that once the sale goes in, they already have their potential renter lined up and ready to go," said Culver. "So there's no delay in between."
Culver obliged, but said when it was time to close the deal Weeks never showed.
"He's just running around getting deposits," he said. "I don't think he has any lenders that are giving him any money."
Action News uncovered similar allegations and a list of charges dating back to 2019 in Philadelphia and Delaware County against Weeks.
Some of his alleged victims even started a Facebook page to talk about what happened to them. Renters said Weeks enticed them with the option to rent to own.
Action News confronted Weeks about the allegations.
"All of my contracts states this - if I'm able to obtain the fundings for these properties, we move forward," said Weeks. "If I'm not able to, then I have to refund the folks back their money."
Court records and prosecutors say Weeks scammed seven potential renters out of more than $25,000 on a home on Ann Street in Upper Darby last summer.
Weeks has pleaded not guilty, but he tells us everyone will get paid back.
"That was all on me, 100%. That was a rookie mistake. I just, I haven't been in it long enough and I made a lot of mistakes with that," he said.
Lawrence Davis signed an agreement earlier this year with Weeks on a different Bucks County home that he also thought would allow him to rent to own.
"I actually toured the entire home and then, after that, it just fell through," said Davis.
Weeks told us he would pay him back minus the 25% non-refundable deposit fee from his contract.
"The rest of it I've been trying to give his money back but he won't take it," said Weeks.
Weeks said everyone would get what they're owed. But, he also admitted to Action News, he currently owns no rental property.
Bucks County authorities told us they're investigating similar complaints but no charges have been filed.
And, just last week, both Weeks and his attorney had no comment as they left court in Delaware County.
A judge required him to pay more than $25,000 in restitution by Friday, September 24.
If he does, prosecutors said a plea deal is likely there.
However, Weeks also has additional court hearings later this month in other counties as he continues to fight those criminal charges.
Experts advise when you go the For Sale by Owner route, get significant deposits on the purchase and place them in escrow with a title company.
And never agree to rent a place with someone who currently doesn't own the property.
Help the Action News Investigation team get to the bottom of the stories that impact you. Use the below form to tell us your story idea.
Action News Investigation: Man accused of bilking victims in rent-to-own scheme in Philly region
Victims say Ricardo Weeks used Facebook Marketplace and other social media sales platforms to prey on them.
ACTION NEWS INVESTIGATION
More TOP STORIES News