CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Annette Beltran and Aneiko Smith searched Craigslist for a house to rent.
Smith found a house in north Charlotte and Beltran ended up at one in the university area.
They had no idea the man behind the ads was a scammer.
In both cases, the scammer used the Rently app.
The app is legitimate and allows people to see a home without the owner or property manager present.
"I accessed the home, took a look at it, fell in love with it," Smith said.
"We liked it a lot," Beltran said.
The scammer sent both women a lease, which they signed and sent back. Smith said she paid a $950 deposit and Beltran said she paid close to $2,000.
Both families moved in.
"Betrayed," Beltran said. "Because we trusted him, which we shouldn't have."
Then the scammer asked for more money.
"That's when I said, 'Whoa, wait a minute,'" Smith said.
They did some research, realized he wasn't the real owner and called him.
"He said, 'Well, I can't give you the money back. I've already spent it in a club,'" Beltran said. "He goes, 'Well, guess you figured it out. Say bye-bye to your money.' And hangs up the phone," Smith told Action 9.
Smith moved out of the house she had wanted to rent.
Beltran stayed and is now renting from the real owner.
"So, we basically had to pay twice," Beltran said.
Both victims reported the scam to police. Beltran warned others on social media and someone responded saying he spotted the same scam in Highland Creek recently. Action 9 discovered Beltran and Smith were dealing with the same scammer. It was the same lease, same phone number under the same name, Willie.
Action 9 saw Willie offering other homes on Craigslist. Stoogenke texted and asked him to meet at one in north Charlotte.
He agreed but never showed up so Stoogenke called him.
"I'm actually with Channel 9. I'm an investigative reporter. You're on speakerphone. This is going on the news. You're going to be all over the news so people can hear your voice and avoid you," Stoogenke told the con artist. "Clearly you're a scammer. You're trying to rent homes you don't even own. That's also why you didn't show up, right?"
The scammer hung up.
Stoogenke looked up the real owner of all the houses Willie advertised. It's the same owner, a company called American Homes 4 Rent. Action 9 tried to warn the business multiple times, but no one responded.
Action 9 also told Craigslist about Willie and that it may want to block him. The company didn't respond.
Stoogenke also told Rently a scammer was taking advantage of its app.
The company uses "fraud prevention (artificial intelligence) to try to block scammers and that it warns "renters at every step of the way" how to watch out for cons.
How do you protect yourself? Always search to make sure you are dealing with the actual owner of a property before you pay or sign anything.
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