Warning from rental scam victim


A Pensacola man thought he found the perfect home. What he got instead was an expensive lesson. Identity theft helped lure him into a rental scam.

Calvin Griffin works in the studio at Channel 3 while he's finishing his Master's degree. He's seen plenty of scam stories, so when he responded to a Craigslist rental ad, he thought he was being cautious enough.

$700 a month for a nice home in East Hill seemed too good to be true. But when Griffin asked questions, there was an answer for everything. He said, "They were trying to sell the house, but then they were unable to sell the house, so then they put it up for rent, and that's why they were saying that they had listed it so cheap."

They said they were military and had to move out of town suddenly. That's why they couldn't meet in person. Griffin continued, "In order for me to look at the house, they were out of town and they had the keys, so they instructed me to send them a MoneyGram."

Sergeant James Hall with the Escambia Sheriff's Office says that request always spells trouble. He explained, "That's a big red flag for this particular scam. They'll send the money, and then they'll say I'll send you the key."

But Griffin believed he'd checked the person out, through property records and online searches. The name and other details matched the real owner. He said, "I was like OK, this is a good deal, kind of blindsided by how good of a deal it is, I went ahead and sent half of the deposit."

It's $500 he can probably kiss goodbye. The thieves had stolen the homeowner's identity to help sell their scheme. Sergeant Hall said, "The problem with these particular types of scams is there's not a lot that can be done after the fact. We've got to be proactive, and do everything you can before you become the victim."

At first, Griffin was embarrassed and angry. Now he just wants to keep it from happening to someone else. He said, "Just think about if it was somebody with a family, you know, kids or you know...$500 could have been all they had."

The Sheriff's Office says there's one more thing to watch out for if you've fallen victim to a rental scam. You've probably given the crooks some personal information, making you more vulnerable to identity theft. Even though your money may be gone, investigators say it's still important to file a report. It helps them track repeated criminal activity, and protects you if your identity is stolen and used for illegal purposes.

If you are interested in vetting a potential rental in the Pensacola area, you can call the Pensacola Association of Realtors at (850) 434-5507.

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