A young family of four in Richmond is warning the public about a rental scam and requesting assistance via an online GoFundMe page after they say they fell victim.
Elizabeth Fuentes, a mother of two young children who cleans homes for living and whose husband paints houses, told NBC Bay Area reporter Melissa Colorado that her family needed to find an affordable home quickly. The pressure to react in a competitive housing market made her miss some red flags, she says.
On Aug. 19, she found an advertisement for a Richmond home for rent on Craigslist that seemed like a bargain: $1,750 for three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
She called the listed 707 number and spoke with the supposed landlord, who called himself George and said he lived in Southern California. He gave her an access code to a smartlock on the home that would allow her to view it, and had her fill out and send a rental application that included a picture of her driver’s license.
At the time, she wasn’t aware that she was speaking with a scammer rather than the actual homeowner. That scammer happened to have access to the home’s smartlock. She told NBC Bay Area she visited the home and even saw another family touring it.
Fuentas’ application was subsequently approved, and her family was provided a rental contract. Fuentas said the instructions were to wire $1,750 into the bank account of a company called Global Traders LLC.
After she made the deposit, the scammer “still communicated with me and gave me the code to view the home once again,” Fuentes said.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, Fuentas saw the home listed on Zillow, and became suspicious. She said she called the listing and said she found out the home’s access code was being provided to anyone interested in viewing the property.
Fuentes tried to contact “George from Southern California” to no avail, no pick up or call back. She filed a report with Richmond police.
The family not only lost their savings, they now have until Sept. 5 to move out from their current home, as their landlord has a new tenant moving in, Fuentes said.
Online rental scams have become common. Earlier this year, Richmond police warned about a scammer fraudulently listing rental properties for rent in order to steal their deposits.
The NBC reporter, Colorado, said she spoke with RPD and learned they’re investigating the incident. Colorado also provided law enforcement tips for prospective renters, saying that you should be suspicious if a landlord does not meet you in person, request a background check, or check your credit information. Those looking to rent a house can also, free of charge, call the Contra Costa County Assessor’s Office to verify ownership of the property.