More and more home rental scammers using same M.O.

By Layron Livingston - Reporter

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Dianna Bedilion was all packed up with a legitimate place to go. There were moving boxes neatly stacked in just about every corner of her apartment.

"I know I'm not the only one, and I know the other people aren't the only ones," Bedilion said. "I would hope that all the people this has happened to would come forward."

Bedilion contacted the Leave it to Layron team after a friend forwarded her a link to a recent LITL report. The story featured Leo and Janita Mathis. The Plantation couple came across a home rental listing on Craigslist in June.

Bedilion told the LITL team she, too, was looking for a home to rent, and came across a listing on Craigslist. 

The Mathises recalled how they contacted the number on the listing and received a code to access the electronic lock on the home to tour the property.

Bedilion recalled a similar process when she went to look at her prospective rental. 

"It sounded exactly like me," Bedilion said as she watched the Mathises' story.

The couple eventually sent nearly $5,000 to their alleged landlord and moved into the home. They later learned the home was actually owned by Invitation Homes, a home rental company. The company said it had no affiliation with the "landlord" the Mathises paid.

Bedilion said her so-called landlord asked for two month's rent and $1,000 as a security deposit the same day she took her tour. She only wired him $450.

"Just to take it off the market," she said, until she could fill out an application. "We would give (him) more money and the balance on the move-in date. As soon as we got home, I felt something wasn't right."

Bedilion said the fake landlord never answered her phone calls and would only communicate via text message. Bedilion said she tried contacting her bank and the bank she wired the money to to cancel the payment, but failed to get her $450 back.

She said she looked the property up on the county appraiser's website and learned it was owned by the same company that owned the home the Mathises had rented.

She said she immediately called Invitation Homes.

"When I spoke to (the representative), it was kind of funny that she did not seem surprised of my story," Bedilion said.  

Bedilion said she saw the Local 10 News report about the Mathis family's ordeal a few days later.

Police departments across the country, including South Florida, now have entire sections on their websites dedicated to warning people about Craigslist rental scams.

The Federal Trade Commission details on its website how scammers often hijack real listings from reputable companies and sites. The scammers then post their own contact information and sometimes use the name of the person who posted the original ad.

Bedilion even got an application from her scammer. 

"I actually filled out the application to try to keep him communicating to try to figure out who he was," she said. 

The LITL team tried calling Bedilion's "prospective landlord." He did not answer, but sent a text message. 

"Hello sorry I miss your call…Which of my house and location do you want?" the text read. 

The text was verbatim the message Bedilion received when she inquired about the property.

The FTC warns there is never a good reason to wire a security deposit or rental fee because once you send that money, there's no way to get it back.

The FTC also warns a sure sign you're getting scammed is being asked for all of that money before you meet the landlord or sign a lease. 

Renters should always research a listing and its owner. 

If you end up becoming a target, report it to local law enforcement and the FTC.

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