Renter beware: That online listing could be fake

Local family moves in only to learn the house was never for rent.

SAN ANTONIO – Her lease was up, so Vicki King was packing Santa Claus mugs, dish towels and heaps of belongings into cardboard moving boxes. The problem was her family had nowhere to call home.

“Everything’s going to have to go into storage since we don’t have a house to go to,” she said.

After searching for weeks, they thought they’d found a house on Craigslist. It was three bedrooms in a nice neighborhood, and the rent was listed as $1,350 a month.

“It had a nicely cared-for lawn,” King said. “It was affordable, in our price range.”

They called the number on the ad and headed out to see it.

“And the guy said, ‘Call me when you get there,’” she said. “So we did, and he talked us through opening it.”

They downloaded the Opendoor app to get inside for a self-tour.

“You just say, ‘I want to take a tour now,’ unlock the door and click,” King said.

The smart technology made it all so convenient and realistic as the alleged owner, whom King thought was with Opendoor, stayed on the phone.

It seemed perfect. The Kings then used Zelle to pay more than $1500 for a super quick background check, security deposit and pet fee. They signed a lease through emails and text messages and started moving in.

“And then all of a sudden, this car pulled up, and there was a lady in there, and she said she had an appointment with her realtor to see the house,” King said.

That’s when King decided to call the number on the Opendoor sign in the front yard.

“I said, ‘Who owns this house?’ And they told me, ‘We do.’ I said, ‘You do?’” King said. “I gave them the names of the people, and I said, ‘Do they own it?’ They said, ‘No, you’ve been rental scammed.’ My heart just sunk.”

The Kings are among the latest victims of rental fraud, which is increasing as rents rise and people are enticed by affordable rents.

Opendoor, based in California, responded to questions saying rental fraud is an “unfortunate and growing trend across the U.S.”

They pointed out they own their homes and do not rent them. To try to thwart scams, they put stickers on their front doors stating the house is for sale and not for rent, and if anyone is trying to rent it to them, report it.

As for the convenient access to tour the homes, Opendoor said, “We request an email, phone number and physical address. Next, we verify the phone by sending a verification code. In some cases, we’ll also ask you to scan the front and back of your state-issued identification card. If a consumer is not touring the home with an agent, they will use their verified Opendoor account to access the home via our mobile app. We have camera and security systems set-up at all of our homes, too.”

They offer advice to rental property hunters:

  • Google the address to see if the home is listed on another website.
  • Verify the true owner by using public tax or property records.
  • Beware of prices that seem too good to be true.

The Kings filed a police report on the fake listing that cost them real money and a lot of hassle.

“I’m hoping he’ll make a mistake, and they can get him,” she said. “It’s not right to do that to people.”

These three techniques are among the most common warning signs you are the target of fraud

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.