Las Vegas woman falls victim to rental scam

Desperate mom paid through bitcoin

By Tricia Kean
CNN image

(KTNV) - LAS VEGAS -- "When you are responsible for other people, other loved ones, you have to do your due diligence. When you don't, there can be some heartbreaking, devastating consequences," says Lorri Johnson.

She recently fell for a scam.

"I mean he not only took my money, he took my dignity. I feel like a failure," says Lorri.

But before you judge her and say this wouldn't happen to you, Lorri says put yourself in her shoes. She and her son were renting the same home in the Centennial Hills area for 6 years. Then in March, Lorri learned the owner wanted to sell and they only had 30 days to move.

"It came as a surprise," says Lorri.

She says she wanted a home in the same area, so her son wouldn't have to change schools. She spotted a rental on Craigslist.

"Three bedrooms. Two and-a-half bath," says Lorri.

She called the owner, who explained his wife recently passed away and he couldn't bear to live in the home anymore. Then he texted Lorri a code for the lock box.

"So we get the key, we go in, and it's awesome," says Lorri.

Everything seemed legit. Lorri says the owner emailed her a lease and she agreed to put down $2,100. But she admits it was a little strange when he requested payment through bitcoin.

"It was really kind of, it was red flags. But because out of desperation, I just ignored them," says Lorri.

So Lorri moved in. But later that night Celeste Robertson showed up.

"I pulled up and I went to go see the property and pull my lock box off for the new tenant that was moving in the next day," says Celeste, Senior Property Manager with RentVest, which represents the real homeowner.

That's when Lorri realized her lease was a fake.

"I'm truly embarrassed. Truly embarrassed," says Lorri.

Celeste says the thief was tricky, posing as someone pre-approved by her company to get the lock box code and share it with Lorri. It's a scam they're seeing far too often.

"Unfortunately it's gotten a lot worse. I would say this year, 2019, it's actually been the worse I've seen it in my years of experience," says Celeste.

To fight these scams, RentVest is adding watermarks to their pictures, to stop thieves from stealing them for bogus listings. They're also posting this flier inside each property, warning potential victims they're inside a RentVest home. Celeste says beware of some common red flags. Someone who comes up with reasons to avoid meeting in person.

"We have them physically come here to the office," says Celeste.

Also, method of payment. A cashier's check or money order is safest.

"The best thing is never, never, never wire money," says Celeste.

And finally, always verify who owns or manages a property. You can find out a lot with a quick search online.

"Do a little bit of homework. Dig a few minutes. Because it could really save you," says Celeste.

As for Lorri, she's still looking for a place while living with a friend. She's hoping others will learn from her mistake.

"I just want people to know that it can happen. It can happen to you... being in a rush makes you vulnerable and weak," says Lorri.

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