Would-be thief uses app to lure renter into property scam

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Imagine you are looking for a new place to live, find one you like, are given the code to get in and look around, only to find out the whole thing was a scam.

A Memphis woman told FOX13 that’s exactly what happened to her and she wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

An all brick three-bedroom, two-bathroom home listed for rent for $1,050 a month sounded like a hot deal to Lavelle Thompson. She said it seemed too good to be true.

“It looked like a house that would easily rent for $1,500 here in Memphis,” Thompson said.

She told FOX13 she saw an ad for the rental on a link through Zillow and reached out. A person claiming to own the property got back in touch with her to set-up a self-tour. Before viewing the house, she said he gave her a call.

“He says he works and is on a Christian mission in Delaware and he wants someone he trusts, and he is willing to negotiate the price,” Thompson said.

FOX13 spoke with a long-time resident in the neighborhood who said they’ve never seen the person claiming to be the owner.

“I have never seen him or anybody like that come through in the neighborhood,” Mckenzie Harden said.

Thompson showed FOX13 messages between her and the man she thought was the property owner. She said she exchanged driver’s license and other personal information.

“He gave me a code. I went right into that house. I looked all around that house,” she said.

Thompson said she found out it was a scam when the guy requested a payment.

“When he started to renegotiate the price," she said. “Another red flag went up when he asked me to cash app him my application. Who does that?”

That’s when Thompson decided to end communication. A spokesperson confirmed Monday the house is owned by American Homes 4 Rent and said the company owns rental properties in 22 states and doesn’t oversee or manage homes privately.

“If someone is getting set up for a potential scam, you can possibly get robbed when nobody is around. It could lead to something very tragic,” Harden said.

“I am asking them to do more. I am asking them to go in there and make sure who is going in your property," Thompson said. "I am asking you to make sure if you give someone a code, change it. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for.”

The spokesperson with American Homes 4 Rent said it is aware of property scams and it cautions renter to beware.

For a simple list of things to look out for, click here.