MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis' housing crisis has opened the door for scammers trying to cash in on people needing a place to live.
So far this year, 22 people have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South for online rental property theft. Scammers place fake ads for properties that don't exist or have permission to rent, hoping a victim will give them money for the property.
"The crooks lift pictures from a legitimate rental or MLS for a house, and then they create some urgency why you need to do the deal with them immediately," said Randy Hutchinson, BBB of the Mid-South Executive Director.
Hutchinson said to be careful if the property is priced under the market price.
Having to wire money, not having the landlord meet you in person, or not being allowed inside the property are other red flags.
"In most cases, there is some reason you can't meet them in person. You may only be able to communicate over email. You have to send them money, and they will send you the keys. You send them the money, and they never send the keys, said Hutchinson.
Keri Ramsey almost fell for this scam when she saw a house for rent in East Memphis priced for $1,250 on apartments.com.
When she contacted the person listed as the landlord, he sent her a lengthy email. It said that the house had recently been for sale and was just taken off the market. That's is why there was a 'For Sale' sign in the yard. It also said she should not contact the realtor.
Ramsey became suspicious and started doing research.
"I went to the property assessor's page and found out who owned the property. Then I went to her Facebook page and found the owner. I saw she had posted the link of her house being for sale, so I knew it was a scam. I called the realtor who listed the house who confirmed it was not for rent," said Ramsey.
"It breaks your heart thinking about the people who fall for this and send money thinking they are getting a great home in a great neighborhood for a deal, " said realtor Todd Adams.
Adams was the realtor that had the home listing. However, once Ramsey contacted him, he called the website and reported the listing as fraudulent, and it was taken down.