Father loses thousands in Atlanta rental scam
DECATUR, Ga. - Finding a house or apartment to rent can put you in the crosshairs of a scam. There’s little inventory and lots of interest, and scammers hope to rush your decision so you ignore red flags. Raphael Webster was taken for nearly $2,000.
He has a new baby, works full time, and has a tight budget in a very expensive city. But, he found something in Decatur. It was perfect, or so he thought he thought it was.
I had a home and a housewarming party. Everybody came by and brought gifts and everything. It was real nice," he told the FOX 5 I-Team.
And with a new baby, making a home in a safe neighborhood was important to him.
"I thought it was a good deal," he recalled. One-thousand dollars a month, $1,700 down payment."
Realtor Alex Wilkinson manages the property.
"I listed it on a Monday and had 130 inquiries that day. I have never seen anything like it."
He rented this Decatur home, but not to Raphael.
"When we got there and opened the front door, there was furniture there, and someone was living on the property," the long-time, local realtor said.
Raphael told us that he'd been in the rental home a least a week before the realtor came knocking. He told us what he told police investigators that he found an ad for the home online, called the number, then went to see the property.
Alex Wilkinson, the realtor, said, this had happened to him twice in a month. He said in both cases, the home had a self-touring lockbox. He says he no longer uses these on his rentals because of the scam potential.
You get the rental’s key by uploading your ID to an app to prove who you are, then you get a code to access the house key in the box and you’re in.
"What the con artist is doing is going onto that website and finding out what places have these boxes, and then they are running ads for these properties. Then, they’re telling the potential tenant to remove the key from the lockbox once they’ve wired the money," Wilkinson said.
Often the new renter has paid, has a key now, and moves in before realizing they’ve been taken for thousands of dollars.
Raphael Webster now recognizes the red flags: non-traceable payment using wire or money transfers, even payment apps; not meeting the man who said he owned the property; and all business was done on the phone.
"The fact that I never met him was kinda a red flag, but he used the pandemic and stuff."
The price was too good, well below market value, and he never crossed-checked the listing. This means that a simple Google search may have shown that there were multiple listings for the address. If he had, he would’ve found the real, more expensive ad for the home.
His advice is, "Don’t wire anybody money unless you’ve met them or verified who they say they are."
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