Navy veteran, wife scammed via Craigslist

Torres family loses $850 after home fraudulently listed online for rent

By Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Navy veteran Roberto Torres and his wife Cynthia just moved back to Jacksonville from El Paso, Texas. Roberto was stationed here when he was in the Navy and loved it, so the family decided to return. However their move back to the River City hasn't been problem free.

"We already had out truck and everything ready and we were going to move, and we had nowhere to go," said Cynthia.

She got emotional as she began telling her story to News4Jax, and Roberto gave her a loving hug and kiss. The couple wants to share this story of being scammed in the hopes of helping someone else avoid something similar.

Cynthia says they needed a place so she went online and found her dream home: a three-bedroom in East Arlington. It was a perfect fit for the couple and their 2 ½ year-old son. The alleged homeowner told the Torres' he was working out of town and couldn't physically show them the house, but would give them the keys if they wired him the $850 deposit.

"Like after everything I kept having this gut feeling," Cynthia admitted. "There's just something not right about this."

Cynthia even thought it was strange that they were asked to wire $850, which she says is is just under the allowable $900 limit when wiring money with MoneyGram. Because of the concern, they decided to take extra precautions.

During a short visit to Jacksonville prior to

their move, they drove by the property and looked through the windows.  It was empty. They even checked with the next-door neighbors, but because the scammer used the real homeowner's name, there were no red flags.

"The neighbors were like, 'Yeah, these people are really credible people a great family, they did move away.' And everything just kind of like made sense," Cynthia explained.

Even the scammer's emails sounded legitimate.

"He seemed very genuine and very sincere. He said, 'This is my home, I want to make sure I rent it to the right people. I'm a Godly man,'" explained

Roberto. "And see, that's what, we're Godly people, you know? So, I was like, okay, this guy seems like he's credible, he's honest. I said I don't think this is a scam."

But after the couple finally wired their deposit, the scammer asked for more money saying the Homeowner's Association Fees were due.  But that wasn't part of the rental deal. The scheme started to unfold when Cynthia found the house for sale on another website.

"I felt so bad because we're starting to see this more and more," said Sena Baker, owner of First Coast Realty and the the realtor for the real homeowner of the house in East Arlington. 

The Torres' called Baker after realizing the scammer also lied when he told them he originally had the house for sale, but changed his mind.

"Being in the real estate industry, I have seen this before - where scammers

will go out, they will look on realtor.com., Trulia, Zillow, look for properties that are vacant and they'll be able to find that out from the photos, because usually realtors will take photos and if its vacant, then they know well, okay, this is a property I can use," Baker explained.

She recommends that before ever sending any money, meet the perspective owner at the home.

"Do your homework, and definitely view the inside of the home before you give any money," added Baker.

News4Jax Crime and Safety Analyst Gil Smith says as technology improves, so do criminals.

"They may come out 1 or 2 hours prior to the meeting time, break in, change the locks, put their own locks in, so

when they get there, you assume it's theirs," warned Smith.

He goes on to say consumers need to take extra steps, given the lengths scammers are willing to go.

"No matter what, no matter how they get there, or how familiar they seem to be with the property, get a picture ID," advised Smith.  "If they're not willing to give you an identification, don't do the transaction."

The Torres' did file a police report, and are hopeful their scammer will be caught.

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