Rental scam targets Midland, Texas

scam alert pic 150x150 Rental scam targets Midland, TexasOpportunity is a double-edge sword. The West Texas oil boom has produced a lot of jobs in the Permian Basin. Unfortunately, that has led to a serious housing shortage–and an opportunity for scam artists to take advantage of people.

BBB warns that Midland is being targeted by thieves running the Nigerian Rental Scam. In this scam, the crook advertises a home for rent that does not belong to him, usually at a big discount. People who respond to the ad get a letter explaining why the “owner” is renting cheaply and can’t be there in person. A mission trip in Africa is a common reason. Often the scammer plays on the victim’s religious beliefs to win their confidence.

If you keep corresponding, they will get you to wire money and offer to mail you the key. If you send the money, 1) you don’t get the key, 2) you go to the house to find the real owner knows nothing about it and the place isn’t available to rent, and 3) your money is gone with the wind.

BBB just got a report of just such a rental scam last week. Debby Sifuentes learned that someone was advertising for rent a house she was selling. In fact, one person sent the scammers a $2,000 deposit. “My Realtor was getting calls about it,” she told BBB. “Then the next door neighbor called and said a lady showed up and told her about her emails from the scammer. I immediately called the police. There were pictures in the ad. At first I was afraid someone was on the property, taking pictures, but the pictures turned out to be from my Realtor’s website.”

KMID-TV produced a story about the scam and interviewed Sifuentes.

This had a lot in common with the rental scam I blogged about in May. First of all, it was in Midland, an area with an economic boom and housing shortage. Second, the scammers in both cases used the last name of a former renter (that’s part of the scam–web searches might associate the address with the name and convince someone the person is a homeowner). Finally, phrase searches from both examples found numerous exact matches on scam-related discussion boards.

Below is an excerpt of the letter sent to a potential victim who forwarded it to Ms. Sifuentes:

Hi,

Thanks for getting back to me about my home 1302 McDonald St, Midland, TX
79703. Security deposit $1200 and the month rent is $1000, my home is
available for rent and ready to move in,i wanted to sell my home but with
the advice of my wife i decided to rent it out and we are looking for a God
fearing family that could take our home as their own.I must let you know
that the utilities are include with the month rent and the reason why we
are not asking for too much was because we want any person or family moving
into our home should take absolute care of the utilities and see that the
whole house is kept clean and neat.If we see how good you are taking care
of our home,we can extend your stay in our home and probably pay you visit
once in every three month to ensure that we maintain a good relationship
with you and the rest.If i see how good you are maintaining the house, I
can extend you staying as long as you can stay.Before we left, we try to
search for a God fearing and reputable agent who can take good care of the
house but we couldn’t get any honest agent . all agent we came across are
not honest and they are ripper, The first agent we  put our house in care
almost get us in trouble by renting out my house to many applicant but
thanks to God we have settled the issue, currently i have order them to
remove their For sale sign board away from my house , i am sure they most
have done that but in case they have not remove it, dont contact them for
any reason, You can reach agreement with me owner , because of the issue i
experience with those dishonest agent We decide to left with the key,remote
and the papers.

Note: You can drive by the house for now to see the outside since i and
every member of my family are out of town due to my missionary work…

——-

BBB advises renters of the following red flags to look out for:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often list a rental for a low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
  • The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work – don’t believe it.
  • The landlord requires a substantial deposit. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.
  • The landlord asks the renter to wire money. Money sent via wire transfer service is very difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse. Your money is gone forever.

To learn more about scams, report a scam, or sign up for BBB Scam Alerts, go to BBB Scam Stopper.

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About Charles Wood

Charles Wood is an investigator with the Austin Better Business Bureau. He joined BBB after more than 22 years as a newspaper journalist.