It was about a month ago when Albert Salgado and his wife say they thought they found a perfect home.
They were driving around neighborhoods in Tampa looking for rent signs. They say they found one on Hillside Drive. They called the number on the sign and were met by a couple with keys to the home.
"We looked at the house. 'Yeah, no problem, we need it,'" Salgado said. "We made the contract. They (the supposed landlord) signed it, I signed it, my wife signed and basically that was it."
Salgado said he gave the man and woman $1,600 for first month's rent and a security deposit. It turns out, the house was in foreclosure and was sold at auction shortly after they moved in. Two weeks later, an eviction notice from the new owner came in the mail. The new owner, a nonprofit out of Washington D.C. called NCRC, gave the family three options: Buy the house, rent to own or get a lump sum of cash to move out within 30 days.
Salgado decided to take the lump sum, which is still less than what he lost.
"I have no place to go. All of my money's out there,” he said.
Rental scams are more common than you would think.
"We get a call it seems like every other week from somebody who says one of our properties is up for rent on Craigslist," said realtor Andrew Duncan with the Duncan Duo.
Duncan said there are some steps people can take to avoid being scammed. First, he says, look up the property owner on your county's government website.
"You can look up who owns a property on the tax rolls,” he said.
If the person renting the home is a third party, ask for documentation that they're working for that owner. Also search for the name of the renter and rental company online.
Second, you can always work with a real estate agency that specializes in rental properties. They can find a home in your budget and usually don't charge the renter a dime.
Third, get legal advice.
"If something doesn't seem right, you can hire a real estate lawyer just to make sure everything is kosher with it," Duncan said.
Finally, don't trust someone just because they have a key. Duncan says anyone can rekey and entire home for less than $100.