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Lee County Sheriff's Office reports rise in rental scams over last six months

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Posted at 3:00 PM, May 19, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Lee County Sheriff's Office is seeing an alarming trend: rental scams. They've seen a large spike over the past six months, though all the scams are not the same.

Some scammers are claiming they have a home for rent and stealing money from the potential renter. Others are using an intricate method to scam someone out of thousands of dollars.

"It frustrates me that people take advantage of people," said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. "26 reports in six months, it's a trend."

According to data given to Fox 4 from LCSO, the trend started in January when eight scams were reported. The highest came in April at nine.

"We did see a little but of a spike in the Lehigh area," Marceno explained. "This is not just specific to Lee County."

According to reports obtained by Fox 4, Cape Coral Police received 19 rental scam reports from December to February.

In some of the reports, all a scammer is doing is going on a website, Facebook Marketplace for example, and putting up an ad for a home that's not theirs.

When someone is interested, the scammer asks for money from the now-victim.
 
"You don’t want to Zelle money to anybody," said Genelle Bennett, a local property manager. "If they send you a paper application to fill out, instead of an online application, that’s connected to a business, that’s definitely a red flag."

She has seen several different types of scams.

In one case reported, a victim paid a scammer to move into a house. The scammer gave the renter a code to the door and they moved in, only to find out it was a scam.

"Let’s say I manage 500 houses a year, that may happen once in the 500 houses that I manage," Bennett explained. "Not very often does it happen."

She says if someone is verbally giving you a lockbox code, that is a sign of a scam. You should be getting it from a company and paying for it if you're doing a self-guided tour.

There are ways to avoid becoming a victim.

"Look up the property deed. Look up the owner’s name," Bennett said. "Definitely Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are where you’re going to find scams."

If you are going to wire money, make sure it goes to a reputable company.

These are scams Sheriff Marceno says he wants people to avoid becoming victims of.

"What we don’t want is someone taking advantage of those that want to rent," Marceno said. "Those that think they’re going to commit these crimes, leave because we will find out and you will go to jail."

The Lee County Sheriff's Office is still working to find the scammers in the cases and is collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to identify them.