Pandemic hasn’t slowed rental property scams in Jacksonville

Health care worker said she was scammed out of $850 at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is seeing an increase in rental property scams in the midst of the new coronavirus pandemic. Most of the scams have been via the internet or text message with no face-to-face contact.

A Jacksonville woman said she was scammed out of $850 last Thursday after being led to believe that she was approved to move in a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment.

JSO says it’s seeing more and more scams like these during the COVID-19 pandemic because it’s become customary for people not to have that face-to-face contact with someone they’re doing business with.

In the case of Courtney Jennings, there was a sign in the yard, a keypad, and a lockbox with a key in it. It was enough to make Jennings think the rental process was legitimate. She got the key and fell in love with this apartment at Avery Park Lane after hearing about the rental on Facebook.

″He sent me a letter saying I’m approved and I’m a new tenant, and we made arrangements to send the money, Cash app, or Venmo, or BITpoint," Jennings said.

After filling out the rental application, Jennings said she was instructed to go to a money machine and make the deposit for rent. That’s a red flag, according to police, who urge people not to conduct transactions via bitcoin or money apps.

″He guided me through the whole process, he sent me pictures, told me what to do next, he eventually sent me a QR code, which I scanned at the ATM, which put the money directly into his wallet," she said.

Thinking the situation was suspicious, Jennings sent the fake property owner a text message from another phone number inquiring about the same apartment. The person on the other end told her, the property was available, and provided the same instruction on how to see the apartment and send the money. That’s when she realized it was a fraud.

"I was hurt. I’m a healthcare worker, I’m out here trying to help everyone, and they are trying to take advantage, hurt more than anything,” Jennings said.

Here’s what police say you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Verify the property owner’s ID on the Property Appraisers website
  • Request to meet in person to do the contract, while maintaining social distancing
  • See if the property is listed on various websites with different prices and real estate companies

And, if you can afford it, go through a licensed real estate company.

Jennings says she’s sharing her story to help keep others from being a victim, and she’s filed a police report with JSO.

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