The Lee County Sheriff's Office is warning people about a rental scam becoming more popular in southwest Florida, and Four in Your Corner spoke to one woman who fell victim to it.
Stephanie Erausquin saw a home available for rent on Craigslist. She recorded a video of herself signing the lease. She's now out $1,500 due to a scam, but the video allowed the Lee County Sheriff's Office to make an arrest.
"It sounds perfect. It was a four bedroom, two bathroom. The price was good for me. Just perfect," she said.
She and Lee County deputies said she was scammed by Jamie Jenks of North Fort Myers, but Erausquin knew him by a different name: Scott Lacey.
Erausquin said at first, he seemed legitimate. He prepared a lease that was similar to one she'd signed to rent a home before, complete with how much rent would be and what days it would be due.
Jenks, acting as "Scott Lacey" told her his aunt owned the house. Once Erausquin paid him a deposit and the first month's rent, she started to move her stuff in. That's when she said Jenks started acting strange about when she could finish moving in. Erausquin decided to take a video of him.
"Just in case. You never know," she said.
To make matters worse, when she was at the house one day, the actual homeowner showed up.
"She's asking me 'What the hell are you doing?' I was like 'What do you mean, I'm moving in, this is my house,'" Erausquin said.
She called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Their Fraud Specialist said stories like Erausquin's spiked last year.
"We had well over 60 calls just into the fraud line about this, and I know that's certainly not all of them," Beth Schell said.
"I was crying. I was in tears. I didn't have anywhere to go. My night was to stay in my car," Erausquin said.
She said her last text from Jenks before he was arrested said if she wanted her money back, he'd see her in court, and she told Four in Your Corner she can't wait to see him come February 6th.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office has tips to protect you from becoming a victim of this kind of scam:
1. Scammers usually ask for a deposit or first month’s rent to be sent via Western Union, Moneygram, or prepaid money card before you even see the property.
2. Scammers often use an excuse of why they cannot meet you to show you the property, such as they are out of the country on a mission trip, job opportunity, or military service.
3. Renting vacation property can be tricky. Do your research to make sure the listed property is actually available. It won’t be much of a vacation if you arrive and have no place to stay.
4. Check the address with the county property appraiser to make sure the property truly exists and that all information matches.
5. Do an online search of the property address, name of owner or real estate agency. Often times others will post a complaint or warning about the scam address.
6. If the listing is significantly less than nearby similar properties, then beware. If it seems too good to be true, the chances are it’s a scam.
7. Emails from scammers are often littered with grammatical mistakes and typos. If the email provides too much personal information, tends to go on and on, includes a sad story or offers excuses as to why they can’t speak to you on the phone, chances are it’s a scam.
8. Do not randomly fill out an application with personal information until you have done all of the above and confirmed the property is truly for rent by the property owner.
9. Never make a deposit with cash or debit card, instead use only a credit card for these transactions.