Continuing Coverage of Tornado Outbreaks in North Texas

Tornado Victims May Be Victimized Again by Rent House Rip-Offs

Tornado victims and others looking to rent houses now have a new worry web predators

By Kevin Cokely
|  Tuesday, Apr 10, 2012  |  Updated 10:55 PM CDT
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Real estate agents warn tornado victims looking for affordable rental homes and a short-term lease to be aware of the latest online scheme.

Kevin Cokely, NBC 5 News

Real estate agents warn tornado victims looking for affordable rental homes and a short-term lease to be aware of the latest online scheme.

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North Texas tornado victims looking for affordable rental homes, available immediately and with a short-term lease, may fall victim to the latest online scheme.

Online crooks are lifting legitimate house listings, then posting professional-looking duplicates on other websites, offering rental rates at just half what the houses are worth.

"These are properties typically you see that are in the $1,000 to $2,000 range well have them listed for maybe $1,500 and they're on the Internet for $800 or $700," said Belinda Epps with Epps Realty in Mesquite.

The crooks aren't really trying to lease the house, they're really after renters' big deposit checks and credit information.

"They'll ask for deposit, first month's rent, application and then they'll say we just need the application because we just need your emergency information and things," said Epps.

Someone who says he's a missionary in West Africa put Lupe Kuharsky's house in Mesquite on Craigslist, offering to lease it for $800 a month. There's just one problem, the 'missionary' doesn't own the house, and Kuharsky and her husband are trying to sell it, not rent it.

"It's frightening, it's scary," said Kuharsky. "I was kind of like in shock. Now I'm worried what if somebody sent money and then [they'll] come over here and say I already paid money, I want to rent the house."

Because people stop by nearly every day, the Kuharsky's made a sign for their front yard telling people the house is not for rent. One woman told them she sent the 'missionary' a big check and all her credit information.

"She got an email back telling her she qualified, just send me $1,600 and we'll have two months' rent paid and I'll send you the keys to the house," said Kuharsky.

Epps Realty is already getting calls from tornado victims looking for rental houses, and agents there warn tornado victims, desperate to find something fast they can afford without signing a long-term lease, could easily fall victim to the online scheme.

"We've already received those calls already, from several that are looking for short-term leases," said Belinda Epps. "They need to be dealing with reputable realtors [and] need to be making sure that they are actually walking into an office, giving them their funds that way."

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