RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– A couple has put up a sign on their front door warning people of a rental scam in which scammers have been trying to use their listing to make money.

Lauren Harper and Cameron Whitaker just moved after closing on their new home just three weeks ago. According to the couple, after moving in, several unexpected guests have shown up at their door.

“My boyfriend was so confused at first,” Harper said. “He was like, what is going on? We just moved in last week.”

Three separate times, the visitors believed they were either moving in or coming to pick up the keys.

This prompted them to put up a warning sign. The sign reads ‘This house is not for rent. It was recently purchased. Any online rental ads are fake and you’ve been scammed. If you’ve spoken to anyone on Facebook or Zillow, they are scamming you! Do not wire any money for an application or deposit.’ They signed the note, ‘the owners.’

RentalScamSign
A sign was hung on the home’s front door to warn people about the scam (Photo by Rachel Keller)

Harper said the first woman stopped by and said she put down $100 to hold the house.

“She thought she was talking with the owner of the house or the landlord of the house. He told her when to come by, when to send a deposit, and how much money to put down,” Harper said.

She started to notice several different ads on Facebook marketplace claiming their home was available for rent. After reporting one, more continued to pop up.

The second group to come by was a couple. They told Harper they had been texting someone from different numbers. 8News has obtained these text messages. One of the numbers was an area code in Pennsylvania and the other was an area code in Indiana. The person told the couple that their name was ‘Hopkins.’

Harper told 8news, she called the alleged owner and told them to stop.

“They immediately hung up on me and never answered again,” said Harper.

8News called the Pennsylvania area code “inquiring about the home” and a man answered. The man on the phone said his name was Rupar. The man hung up then texted and wrote, “This is the owner of the house. Are you interested in renting my house?”

According to Harper, the third group was a couple that showed up Saturday with a lease.

According to the lease, the couple was supposed to move-in Sunday April 16- the next day. They told Harper they had sent $900 to a realtor through cash app.

Allegedly, the family had ended their previous lease and packed up their belongings.

“They now had nowhere to go,” Harper said. They had already packed up all their stuff in a U-Haul and said that they were going to have to stay in a hotel because they thought that they had signed on the dotted line and they were picking up the keys from whoever they had been talking to.”

Leslie Blackwell is the Public and Media Relations Coordinator for the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia. Blackwell said this appears to be a rental scam.

Scammers will copy photos and the description of a property, post it online with their own contact information and try to get a deposit from the victim.

Harper and Whitaker told 8news the people who showed up to their home believed the listing was too good to be true and hopes others will follow their gut.

They said they noticed major red flags from the beginning, as some of the individuals had paid via Cash App or paid without seeing anyone or the home in person before hand.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), property owners regularly report that people show up thinking they have a place to stay because they paid money up front and signed an agreement, only to learn that they have been a victim of this cruel scam.

According to a recent survey by Apartment List, more than five million people lost money to rental scams and 43% of online shoppers encountered a bogus listing in 2018. The survey found that those who are 19-29 are 42% more likely to be victims.

“It’s just awful. People are preying on people during such a tough time in the housing market,” Harper said.

So far, they have not contacted police.

The BBB suggests using credit cards for purchases, which are easier to dispute with the bank.