Liz Lightfoot put her St. Paul house up for sale after she landed a job in Arizona. I was a little more surprised to learn that someone else had put her house up for rent.
She and other police are warning about the latest scam after someone broke into her St. Anthony’s Park home and listed it for rent on Facebook to receive deposits and down payments. The scammer went so far as to give potential tenants rounds.
“I wasn’t the real victim, even though it’s my home,” Lightfoot said. “But the people who were about to give this woman the first and last month’s rent and their security deposit, [this] It made them unable to get a home.”
Her real estate agent reported the situation to St. Paul Police. Although officers confronted the woman, who had brought two children for a fake show, no one was arrested. Police say the case is active.
The market is ready to be deceived
Scammers are taking advantage of the tight housing market, desperate homebuyers and renters.
“At any time, we know that there is a shortage of any product or service, which also means that fraudsters will take advantage of this opportunity to take people’s money and identity,” said Bao Fang, vice president of communications at the Better Business Bureau.
Lightfoot has lived in the house for over 20 years. It is where she raised her three children. After an out-of-state job prompted her move and her decision to sell, she hoped a new family would move into the home she loved.
Neighbors later told Lightfoot that the “for sale” sign in front of her house had been changed to a “for rent” sign, and that a woman with two children was seen making the rounds. The Lightfoot home is on the market for about $300,000 but the scammer tried to rent it for $1,200 a month. Lightfoot real estate agent Benjamin Sungstad called it a “deal too good to be true”.
About a dozen potential tenants have inquired about the home, Lightfoot said, though only a few appeared to be suspects.
Rosa Cabrera was one of the potential tenants who toured the city. Cabrera said she has been in a hurry to find a new place to live since her apartment lease expired on July 1. She is also pregnant, and anytime.
“I went there prepared. You know, I wanted that house. I’m about to have a baby. And I wanted it,” Cabrera said. “It doesn’t matter if he…needs to draw and things like that, because my friend is a professional painter.”
When I went to tour the house, Cabrera immediately felt uncomfortable. The front door was locked, and despite having a keypad, the woman asked one of her children to pass from behind to get in, Cabrera said.
She said the woman made excuses as soon as she entered for not knowing basic information about the house, such as the number of rooms. Cabrera quickly saw an opportunity to get out, so she made an excuse.
Outside, she saw a sign with a phone number and called her, linking her to Songstad. Songstad called the police.
“When he told me it was for sale and not for rent, I was so upset,” Cabrera said. “No one just gives you money. My friend and I work for it. For someone to trick us like this that we’re about to have a baby. It was so annoying.”
When officers arrived at the house around 7 p.m. on June 7, they found a broken basement window but no one was inside, according to a police report.
Later the same day, another potential tenant called the police about a woman trying to rent the same house to him. When the officers arrived, they found the woman there with two children. She denied involvement.
Lightfoot said the officers did not brief her on the case. Knowing that the woman has two children with her, she does not want to press charges.
Tips to protect yourself
The BBB runs a scam tracker on its website which currently has nearly 300,000 reports. The organization offers a number of tips to help potential tenants avoid fraud:
- Confirm the identity of the owner by verifying the identity. Confirm your landlord by checking county records.
- Find out about local rental rates or similar property prices.
- Read the rental agreement and ask questions.
- Never send money or pay without seeing the property.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety also lists resources and advice on its website for those who have been scammed.