‘Just a whirlwind’: Family says they’re out thousands of dollars and a home after rental scam

CHARLOTTE — A family that moved to Charlotte looking for a better life was scammed out of thousands of dollars they had put down for a house.

The Lees wonder what to do next. “It’s just a whirlwind. I can’t wrap my head around none of it,” Kinchen Lee said.

“I’m a chef so I wanted to cook, and I got a job up here and my wife got a job up here so we just moved,” he said.

They say they drove by a house in northeast Charlotte and saw a “For Rent” sign in the yard. They called the number on the sign; the company was named Sparrow.

“Took us through the process of application and lease and all the rest of stuff we supposed to do,” Lee said.

The Lees now believe a scammer changed the phone number on Sparrow’s sign and somehow got access to the lockbox.

They were able to get the key to move in. Then, a week or so later, they got that fateful knock on the door.

“My kids came in the house and they were hysterical ... somebody out here saying what we doing here?” Lee said.

They say it was a Sparrow representative -- a real one this time -- who told them the bad news. The representative said the person who rented the house to them wasn’t the rightful owner.

“And they told us we had to leave immediately,” Lee said.

Sparrow confirmed for Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke that this was indeed a scam and that the Lees could still apply for the house if they wanted. But the Lees say they can’t afford the application fee, especially after losing all that money and with no guarantee they’d even qualify for the house.

“It’s like we went straight down in a hole and we’re trying to dig ourselves out and it gets deeper and deeper,” Lee said.

They’ve now moved to Shelby to stay with family but told Action 9 it isn’t practical long-term and that it meant switching their children’s schools so late in the year.

“I would wonder why somebody would be so cold as to put a family in that position where they take their home and tell them that, con them out of a place to live,” Lee said.

Stoogenke has warned renters about this con before, scammers renting out homes they don’t own behind the real owner’s back.

In a situation like this:

1. Search the phone number online. Make sure it’s the right one.

2. Always make sure you know who the real owner is. It’s easy enough to check online:

- Go to that county’s website

- Check property records

- Put in the address

- Make sure the owner’s name matches

To check a property in Mecklenburg County, click here.

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