San Diego-Area Real Estate Scams a Concern for Residents

A warning for renters.

Victoria McCullough was looking for a new rental home when she came across a great deal in Clairemont.

"He said, all I want is someone who's going to take care of our house," said McCullough, "and it was a three bedroom house."

Victoria found the rental online.  She said it looked legitimate and had pictures and an address that she checked out. The "owner" of the house said his family was moving to the Midwest where he would be working as a minister. In the emails, she said he quotes Bible verses and even asks her about her beliefs.

"I thought, OK, I'll just see where this goes," said McCullough.

When he offered her the house, she was excited and skeptical at the same time. At this point she'd only made contact through email. She hadn't spoken to the owner or looked inside the property.

Then she got a phone call.

"He started pressuring me about wanting to overnight the keys and would I send him a thousand dollars?" said McCullough.

At that point, Victoria backed off. The person on the phone had a thick accent and appeared to be calling from a crowded room. She says she even heard goats in the background.

The Better Business Bureau says that situation and other like it are most likely a scam.

"There's significant numbers of people over the summer that tend to look for rentals and to relocate," said Sheryl Reichert with the San Diego Better Business Bureau,"so this is the time the con-men are particularly active."

Reichert says con-artists will actually steal an entire online ad of an existing true location and create their own rental site. She says the scammers often try to avoid suspicion by playing up religion or ethnicity or some other connection that might give them an advantage.

And then there's the need to make the transaction go quickly.

"The story is often, I'm in a hurry to move on this," said Reichert.

The F.B.I. warns people looking for a rental to only deal with landlords or renters who are local. They have these warnings for renters:

  • Be suspicious if you're asked to only use a wire transfer service to send money.
  • Beware of e-mail correspondence that is in poor or broken English.
  • Look out for rental rates that are significantly lower than average.
  • Don't give out personal information, like social security, bank account or credit card numbers.
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