PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) -- Ali Caszatt thought she had found the perfect house for her family.

"The kitchen was big, a lot bigger than what I have," she said. "It had counter space and cupboard space."

But the three bed, two bath listed online for under $600 a month was too good to be true.

"It seemed really fishy when the guy said, 'I can’t talk right now. Let’s just text,'" Caszatt recalled.

A quick online search revealed the same house listed for hundreds of dollars more through a real estate firm. That's when Caszatt realized a scammer had ripped photos of the house from a legitimate real estate website and posted a fake listing.

"He asked us for $500 for the security deposit and $100 for the application fee," Caszatt said.

Rental scams like this aren't new, but they seem to be happening more often across the Valley.

"Over the last three weeks, it’s hit almost every single one of our properties that we have listed," said Jessi Myers, a property manager for TCT Property Management Services in Mesa.

Myers says scammers are taking advantage of companies that have switched to contact-less showings during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Whoever is stealing our advertising is utilizing the ability for them to go view homes themselves but then instructing them to just text them information and take they keys out of the lockbox and they can just move right in," Myers told 3 On Your Side.

There are ways for house hunters to protect themselves from falling for fake listings. Never wire money or send payments via a cash app to a landlord. The Federal Trade Commission says legitimate landlords have no reason to require that form of payment. Renters should also avoid making any payments before seeing the apartment they plan to rent, according to the FTC.

"Google the address," Myers suggests. "See if it pulls up anyplace else."

"Do research," she added. "Most of them time they’re probably listing them for hundreds of dollars less than what they’re actually listed at, or even offering utilities included, which is very rare."

Fortunately, Caszatt realized that someone was trying to scam her and she didn't hand over any money.

"I feel extremely lucky," she said. "For me to feel like I was this close to having someone just take that from me, it’s a great feeling to know that I am not out any money."

Anyone who's the target of a rental listing scam should report it to local law enforcement and the FTC. The agency says the scams should also be reported to the website where the fake ad was posted.


Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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