Scam artists targeting Arizona renters

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TEMPE -- It’s a growing trend in the Valley – criminals taking advantage of the number of vacant homes in the area. Scam artists are trying to move people into empty houses they don’t own, just to get their hands on that first month's rent before disappearing.

A recent post on Craigslist advertises a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom home in Tempe, close to ASU. There are great color pictures and an even better price -- just $700 a month. The home sits just off Mill Avenue on Carter Drive.

If you think it’s the perfect place for you, and you email the people who posted the property on Craigslist, you will get an official looking application along with a letter from the husband and wife owners, who happen to be in West Africa. They are "doing the Lord's duty for humanity" as missionaries and just need an honest person to take care of their property. Just send them money for the deposit and the keys and paperwork will be mailed to you.

"Right, they are trying to get the deposit, the security deposit, the quick $500, 'send me $500,' and then they'll never hear from them again,” said D'etta Lester, the real owner of the property.

Lester can’t believe someone is doing this to her.

"I can’t imagine somebody being so silly to fall for this," Lester said, "but I can’t imagine somebody being so deceiving and evil to come up with this thing in the first place."

These are professional scam artists who seem to know what they're doing. They even made a fake email address with the real owner's name.

Erin Kvist with Mosaic Property is the property manager. She says this type of scam is widespread in the Valley.

"[Especially with] foreclosured homes because you can tell they're going to be vacant, they're going to be vacant for a little while, even before they get a sign up front and things along those lines," she explained. "They're saying people are posting them for rent, even meeting them at the property and letting them in, showing it to them, and then taking the money once they get the security deposit."

The real homeowners are now dealing with the FBI to catch the suspects who are putting those ads on Craigslist.

If you want to avoid being a victim, experts recommend you use a real estate agent or a management company like Mosaic Properties -- they have a physical location, will be there for the duration of your lease and can be looked up on the Better Business Bureau.