Looking to rent a home? Spot these red flags online & don’t get duped

Warning comes after uptick in people victimized in Jacksonville, police say

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM has been tracking fishy home rental posts online all summer, spotting many postings that have red flags for being fake. And now the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has issued its own warning after receiving recent reports of people falling victim.

“This has been an issue in the past that hasn’t been real prevalent,” said Officer Christian Hancock. “But over the last couple of weeks apparently there’s been an uptick in it. Over this past weekend, we’ve had several reports of people being victimized by the scam.”

The I-TEAM has heard from viewers who admit they fell for something that in hindsight was “too good to be true.” They all have a similar story: They saw a post for a nice home with a low monthly rent on a website like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. They contacted the poster, and were told to send a deposit (usually first and last month’s rent) -- only to learn the person they paid had no affiliation with the home, had seemingly vanished without a trace, and they had lost their money.

“A lot of time these people that are listing them aren’t in fact the owners or have any representation whatsoever. They’re just pulling stuff off-line,” warned Hancock.

The good news: there are some simple steps you can take before you hand over any money to make sure you aren’t being scammed.

How the I-TEAM checks for fakes

If you search for a home to rent online, and you find something that you’re interested in, copy the home’s address and do a web search. That home may show up elsewhere on a reputable listing website like Realtor.com.

  • Compare the two postings Does the monthly rent stated on the online post you found match the rent stated on the reputable listing website? If not, that’s a huge red flag.

“Vet the property listing,” said Hancock. “If it’s just a person and no business, that’s a red flag. It’s not typically going to be one person -- it’s going to be a business.”

  • Call the agent listed on the reputable listing website Do not call or contact the person who posted on the online marketplace. Instead, on the reputable listing site, scroll down that page until you find the phone number for the owner, agent, or landlord, etc. Call and confirm. You may learn that the original posting you found was made by an imposter, but you won’t lose any money.

Examples of home rental scams found by the I-TEAM

  1. On Facebook Marketplace, we found a 4-bedroom, 2-bath house listed for rent for $1,500/month on Quail Trace Ct. in Jacksonville. When we searched the home’s address online, we found the same home and same pictures on the listing website Realtor.com – but the listings didn’t match. The same home was listed for sale. We called the company that owns it, and we were told the home is only for sale for $336,000 and not for rent.
  2. In another search, we found a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house listed for rent for $1,000/month on Stonegate Lane in Middleburg. When we searched the home’s address online, once again we found the same home and same pictures on the listing website Realtor.com – but the rental fees didn’t match the amount we saw on Facebook Marketplace. When we called the property manager, an automated phone system confirmed the home is available to rent for nearly double the amount -- $1,945/month.

Advice from JSO

JSO is trying to spread the word – posting on social media ways to protect yourself from a home rental scam.

JSO says to avoid this type of scam:

  1. Do research and visit the Duval County Property Appraiser website
  2. Verify and call the management company not the number on the listing
  3. Visit the property in person
  4. Never send money to someone you have never met in person
  5. Sign a lease agreement in person not over email

About the Authors:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.