Already facing heartbreak, Phoenix family falls victim to rental scam

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A Phoenix family toured five homes with a woman who claimed to work for American Homes 4 Rent. After paying nearly $2,500 in rent and moving into their dream house, they realized they had been scammed. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Facebook) A Phoenix family toured five homes with a woman who claimed to work for American Homes 4 Rent. After paying nearly $2,500 in rent and moving into their dream house, they realized they had been scammed. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Facebook)
Receipts show the family paid the woman in cash: $1,185 in rent, another $1,185 for a security deposit, and $60 in application fees. They haven't heard from the woman since. (Source: Facebook) Receipts show the family paid the woman in cash: $1,185 in rent, another $1,185 for a security deposit, and $60 in application fees. They haven't heard from the woman since. (Source: Facebook)
In late January, Sylvia Ontiveros’ son, Juan Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, suffered a severe spinal injury in a rollover crash. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) In late January, Sylvia Ontiveros’ son, Juan Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, suffered a severe spinal injury in a rollover crash. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Ontiveros said she visited American Homes’ Phoenix headquarters on Monday and offered to pay any necessary rent and fees to remain in the house, but said the company won’t allow it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Ontiveros said she visited American Homes’ Phoenix headquarters on Monday and offered to pay any necessary rent and fees to remain in the house, but said the company won’t allow it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

They signed a lease, got the keys and moved in, but a Phoenix family just discovered their new rental home was a scam.

Sylvia Ontiveros received a notice Monday ordering her to vacate the home near 75th Avenue and Broadway Road she had just paid $2,430 to rent. She has already set up furniture, artwork and appliances inside.

“They gave us five days to get out,” she said in Spanish, fighting back tears.

Since late May, Ontiveros had been touring available rental properties with a woman she met over Facebook who claimed to be a representative of American Homes 4 Rent. 3TV/CBS 5 is withholding the woman’s name because police have yet to formally identify a suspect.

The woman showed Ontiveros and her daughter five homes. Each time, the woman had access to the keys in the lockbox so they could enter the home and tour it, Ontiveros said.

Receipts show the family paid the woman in cash: $1,185 in rent, another $1,185 for a security deposit, and $60 in application fees. They haven't heard from the woman since. 

[RELATED: Consumer Alert: Rent scam dupes Mesa woman]

Calls to American Homes 4 Rent were not immediately returned. Phoenix police confirmed they are investigating the case.

“I never, never thought she would rob me of my money I had saved to rent,” Ontiveros said.

“We trusted her,” said her daughter, Yosmara Martinez. “We didn't think she would do this to us knowing what we were going through.”

[RELATED: Don't fall for rental ripoff]

The family has been going through a lot: in late January, Ontiveros’ son, Juan Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, suffered a severe spinal injury in a rollover crash. Tony is now permanently paralyzed. His family continues to raise money for his medical expenses online.

Ontiveros was searching for a rental home large enough to accommodate her son’s specialized bed and wheelchair. Without a house of her own, she said her son will be forced into a nursing home once he is released from a rehabilitation facility at the end of this week.

“We don’t want him to go there,” she said, wiping away a tear. “We want him to be home with us already because he’s tired of being in the rehab.”

Ontiveros said she visited American Homes’ Phoenix headquarters on Monday and offered to pay any necessary rent and fees to remain in the house, but said the company won’t allow it.

[RELATED: 3OYS: Beware of home rental scams]

According to Ontiveros, the company said they have a policy against renting to people with felony convictions; Ontiveros’ son has a criminal history dating back to before his paralyzing injury.

The woman who rented Ontiveros the home appears to have a criminal history of her own. The woman’s Facebook name and profile picture match the name and booking photo for a woman with previous arrests for fraudulent schemes, burglary and theft.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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