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Mom falls victim to home rental scam

Posted at 11:04 AM, Dec 11, 2014

Imagine going into the holidays knowing you have to find a new place to live by the end of the year because your lease is running out.

Now imagine that you send in a deposit on a new home, only to learn the home doesn't exist, and you have no place to live -- and no money.

That's the nightmare one single mom is facing this holiday season.

Searched online listings

Jennifer Sebastian needs a home for the holidays.

The working mom and her two kids have to leave their current rental house at the end of the year.

She was thrilled to find a recently built three-bedroom home for rent for only $800 a month, just a few streets away from her current place.

So they drove by to look at it.

"We got out and looked around and looked in it through the windows and stuff, and the kids were very excited," she said.

Her children fell in love. "It was the perfect place," Sebastian said.

Only one catch

Only catch: The landlord was out of town, so he asked her via text and email to wire $1,000, one month's rent plus security deposit, to a long distance number he provided.

"He said as soon as I made the payment, the keys would be on the way," she said.

You've probably guessed the rest.  So did Sebastian, when the keys failed to show up, and the landlord and her deposit disappeared, and would not return her texts.

She had just become the latest victim of the home rental scam.

Same house, two listings

She searched online and found the legitimate listing for that rental house: It was not $800 but $1,200 a month, out of her price range.

"I guess I should have figured out it was too good to be true," she said.

But foreign scammers now copy home and apartment listings all the time, re-posting them on Craigslist and rental sites at much lower prices.

Once you wire the deposit to a scammer, who is typically in Russia, Africa, or another foreign country, it is gone forever, leaving families with drained bank accounts and no home for Christmas.

We tried to reach the scammer by his phone number and email address, but received no answer and no response.

"It's impossible right now," an emotional Sebastian said. "But we'll just take it one step at a time."

Help for the holidays

The good news is that since our initial interview, several people have reached out offering to help Sebastian with a rental home in her area, so she now has several options for the new year.

Meantime, if you are searching for a rental, be suspicious of any listing that seems too low priced compared to other homes or apartments in the area.

And never send a deposit to someone you haven't met in person, so you don't waste your money.

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the E.W. Scripps Co. Like John Matarese on Facebook and follow John on Twitter (@JohnMatarese)