Housing scams in Charlotte are on the rise: One realtor’s story

Housing scams in Charlotte are on the rise: One realtor’s story
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Yesterday, I experienced one of the worst situations – by far – in my career as a Charlotte realtor. 

While representing my client, who is under contract to buy a property and was expected to close on a house early next month, I discovered a young couple and their five kids living in the property, just a few days after having conducting a complete home inspection. 

My client called me late that afternoon, in hysterics. “What is going on with the house I am purchasing? I just drove by and I see a moving truck, basketball goal and people standing outside. It looks like someone is moving in!” 

My response: “This is impossible! You are under contract and this house was empty two days ago.” She assured me that something was going on with the house and she would not be signing closing papers until we got to the bottom of the situation. She was scheduled that day to meet with her bank lender.

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I quickly called the seller’s agent and told him that I was going to stop by to see what was going on. Upon arriving, I proceeded to look around and discovered children’s bicycles in the backyard and a friendly dog on a chain. No one was home. As I began knocking on the door, the couple arrived. I proceeded to ask if they were living in the property and when they moved in. 

“We moved in Sunday and paid our deposit to the property manager in the total of $2,000,” they said.
“We can go inside and show you the lease and money order receipts.” We entered the home and to my amazement the house was completely furnished, with pictures and stencil painting on the wall with “Love, Live, Laugh” throughout the home. 

This was clearly not a case of someone trying to “squat” in the home. I reviewed the paperwork, which appeared legit, and learned that Duke Energy just turned the electricity on that morning in their names. I told them whom I represented and that this home was in the process of being sold. 

Instantly, the couple broke into tears. “We have five kids and we just gave this man all of our money!”  

We were all at loss for words. We reported the incident to the police, who informed us that these types of Craigslist scams were on the rise throughout the city. Innocent people are being duped into renting vacant properties and foreclosures that are not owned by the alleged representative of the property. 

Under normal circumstances, the couple and their family would be forced to pack their belongings and move out immediately. But I just couldn’t bring myself to tell a family they were homeless. I just needed a few days to help this couple out. I let my client (the buyer), and the true property owner’s realtor know that the situation would be handled. We just needed time. 

You might be thinking, how could someone fall for a scam like this? Actually, it’s quite easy to believe the person you’re doing business with when you’ve seen multiple properties with them, had your credit checked, completed a lease, and been handed keys.

These scammers are truly professionals at what they do – not to mention they removed the “For Sale” sign from the yard, took the lockbox off the front door and changed the locks within two days.  

My pledge to help. Will you join me?

The couple, their children and their dog will have to vacate the property in a few days, because they were victims of a terrible crime. 

I am working to help them find a new home and relocate them along with their belongings.

With their permission, I have created a GoFundMe account to help them cover the costs of a new security deposit and rent for the month of May. Please join me in supporting this family. 

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a rental scam, please contact the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police immediately.

Pro tips for avoiding housing scams on Craigslist or other search platforms:  

  • Verify the credentials of the leasing company you are working with through the Better Business Bureau. Don’t automatically believe a professional website or business card means the company is legit. 
  • Always get a copy of a driver’s license or photo ID.
  • Do your research and look up the owner of the home. You can find this very easily on the internet.
  • NEVER pay cash for deposits. Always set up direct deposit or cashier check.

Cover image by Sam Glover via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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