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Florida family scammed by fake real estate transaction in Jacksonville

A fake real estate agent scammed a Port Charlotte family into renting a house in northwest Jacksonville that they had no legal right to rent.

Now Lori Beth Hyman and her family are desperate for a place to live as they face eviction from the neat white one-story house they only lived in when the legit estate agent said they had to. go out, according to WJCT news partner News4Jax.

The bad news came three weeks after they moved in, when Hyman said a man posing as JWB Real Estate security showed up, surprised to see them living there. She was told that the lease she had signed was invalid.

“I showed him the lease, but he said we had been scammed and had to leave,” Hyman said, adding that they had 72 hours to leave.

Scams on the rise

The scam affecting Hyman is one of many local real estate agents have encountered this year, ranging from bogus phishing calls for information to people like Hyman facing eviction after a house rental turns out to be false, said Marcia Hodgson, spokeswoman for the Northeast Florida Association. real estate agents.

When a real estate agent has a problem with a scammer, Hodgson passes it on in the newsletters on the association’s website.

For example, Hodgson said she had just learned that someone was posing as a deceased property manager and was asking for a rental verification.

Fair Realty owner Denise Demico faced another scam over Labor Day weekend, when she was bombarded with anonymous text messages from potential clients across the country claiming to be interested in her listings.

Demico told NEFAR officials that the texts all asked her to send them a six-digit code to prove she was a real person before they called her. A colleague who is a former FBI agent warned her not to, according to a NEFAR press release.

“I was told that if I answer they will send me a code and if I click on it they can enter my number,” said the Southside Jacksonville real estate agent. “They are phishing your number so they can use it to call other people. They are trying to access my Google voice account which is registered in my name. They want to hijack my number to trick other people.”

NEFAR officials also chronicled an April scam aimed at duping unsuspecting renters who search for properties on Craigslist and find properties for sale listed on the Northeast Florida Multiple Listing Service website.

This scam involved a real estate agent receiving a phone call from someone asking if one of his listings was for rent. It wasn’t, but the caller had seen it on Craigslist. The real estate agent found the listing, with pictures taken of it, and deleted the fake listing.

A dream house becomes a nightmare

Port Charlotte tenant Hyman said she was looking for a house to rent for her family when she spotted a “For Rent” sign in front of one as she walked through a community in northwest Jacksonville. The front door was open and a man she believed to be the property manager appeared to be holding an open house, she said. Other people were visiting the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, and she said she “fell in love with the space.”

“I loved the whole kitchen,” she told News4Jax.

Hyman, her husband and their 15-year-old son lived in a mobile home in Port Charlotte. She has colon cancer, while her husband has respiratory issues, and they chose Jacksonville because of its access to medical care, News4Jax said.

The man showing the property identified himself by name, and he wore a badge with his picture and “JWB Real Estate” printed on it. He was handing out rental application forms, so Hyman filled one out. About two weeks later, the man called her to set up a meeting at the house to sign a lease and pay the rent for the house.

Hyman said it was a standard lease, like the ones she signed earlier when renting. She said the agent agreed to let her family move in a week early and she used her government-issued debit card to pay $250 to move in during the last week of September. She also paid $250 for a pet deposit and an additional $1,800 for the first October’s rent and security deposit, she said. That’s a total of $2,300, paid from her husband’s government disability award.

Hyman said the agent used a card reader to withdraw money from a debit card and got a receipt with what looked like a legitimate watermark, she said. The family used their remaining funds to make a JEA deposit to turn on the lights, then moved in.

How to avoid scams

Rental scams are common in our area, Tom Stephens, president of the Better Business Bureau’s Northeast Florida office, told News4Jax. And real estate agents across the country have reported similar scams, especially with fewer properties available to rent or buy.

The FBI warned in July that scams were increasing as scammers took advantage of tenants who felt they needed to act quickly for fear of missing out.

USA.gov, run by the federal government, says renters should beware if:

  • The advertised price is much lower than that of similar properties.
  • Listings for the property have grammatical and spelling errors, or use too many capitals.
  • The ad uses uncommon spellings, such as “favor” instead of “favor”.
  • You can only work with an agent. The agent says the owner is too busy, out of the country or otherwise unavailable to handle the rental.
  • The landlord or agent asks you to sign the lease before seeing the rental property.
  • The landlord or agent is unable to let you into the house or apartment or charges you a fee to view it.
  • The owner or agent uses high pressure sales tactics. They can entice you to rent quickly before someone else gets the property.

BBB’s Stephens said the scam Hyman faced was clever and unique. The only thing he noticed, he said, was that the rental agreement was not printed on JWB letterhead. Most agencies would want to promote their name, he said.
Additional tips: If you meet a property agent or manager somewhere other than their office, always get the business address and confirm that it exists. You can also check the address online.

Stephens also recommends checking the person’s name on Google to see if it comes up associated with anything negative. And since real estate agents must be licensed by the state, check their license with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Protect your property

If you’re a homeowner, Northeast Florida court clerks publish a program to stop scammers from steal your home, land or commercial property.

Clerks in six counties — Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns — are urging people to sign up for real estate fraud alert services. The program provides an alert when an official document is registered in your name.

The program won’t stop fraud, clerks say, but it will quickly alert you that something is wrong and you should contact law enforcement, seek legal advice or even file a lawsuit in civil court.

You can subscribe to alerts on ProtectYourFloridaProperty.com.



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