CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Many people in Southwest Florida continue to look for housing, and as hard as it is to find the right rental, police say scams that include house rentals continue to be a growing problem.
This includes areas throughout Cape Coral, which continues to be one of the fastest-growing cities.
A local woman was busy looking for a house to rent online and says she came across what she felt was a scam, so she took her concerns to the police.
Investigators were able to confirm it was indeed a scam, and police continue to keep an eye on these types of incidents.
Dianna Aponte explains how she used a well-known online website to send a message about a home that she was very interested in. Aponte says the house was in the right area in Cape Coral and at the right price, around $1,400, so she was eager to see it in person.
She received a message back from a man who told her she could go see the house — but that he could not meet her in person and when she got to the house, to text him to get a code.
"That sounded kind of suspicious, so I called a male friend to come with me," said Aponte.
"We saw the house; it's brand new, it's beautiful. Then we started seeing in the bathroom mirrors [stickers saying] 'alert, be careful,' and in the kitchen, on the fridge and the kitchen counter a whole bunch of brochures from the company that says it's the real owner of the house with the number advising this is a scam."
Aponte decided to go to the police department and file a report because something was telling her it seemed "fishy."
As Cape Coral police officer Brandon Sancho explains, "It happens all too often. It happens more than it should."
Officer Sancho says he has heard and personally seen what he calls scams like this plenty of times.
"Just based on my prior experience working on the road, I've dealt with several of these, where victims of this type of crime provided their personal information like their licenses," he said. "They also sent money through bank apps like Zelle to pay for an alleged down payment and created a fake contract with these scammers.
"If they see a house for $1,000 and its 2,000 square feet here in the city of Cape Coral, that's most likely not going to be accurate," Sancho continued. "What we are going to recommend that they do is try to work with a licensed realtor or directly with the rental agency."
The tough part is Officer Sancho says it's very difficult to actually locate the people who pull this off because most likely they are based overseas.
"If they are here, though, they're going to be using fictitious phone numbers," Sancho said.
If the culprits are caught, they could face charges including grand theft.
His advice if you are searching for a rental:
"Try to check the Lee County property appraisal website and see if that person is the actual owner," Sancho advised. "If people are giving you access codes and the alleged owner is not on-site, don't [enter]; it's very dangerous. The hardworking money that you earned... try to protect it, don't just be giving out your money through bank apps like that."
Aponte is glad she filed a police report.
"The scams are everywhere," she said. "If you don't go to the police department, it's just going to continue and continue. I thought it's my responsibility as a citizen to notify. I don't want this to happen in my community or anyone else."
Police say if you think you are experiencing something odd when on your house search you can call within city limits to have an officer dispatched and meet with them for an official report. Or you can call or come to Cape Coral Police Department to file a report.