Clever scam targets renters

BUCKHANNON — A new scam has hit Upshur County and local realtors are spreading the word to make sure the public is aware.

Stan Rexroad, a manager at the Century 21 Realty Buckhannon office, said one of the agents called him Friday evening about a phone call she received from a couple who were ready to move into a home that was for rent in the city.

But the home wasn’t for rent, it was for sale.

Rexroad went over to the home and found a young couple with an infant and a pick-up truck with new furniture ready to move in.

The couple told Rexroad they learned about the fake rental though through somebody on Facebook who agreed to lease it to them.

The man told Rexroad that he had been shown a preliminary lease agreement but was told it needed to be updated and wasn’t finalized.

The couple saw the outside of the house but not the inside and decided they wanted to rent the home. They were then asked to send a money order for $1,400 to someone out of state.

Rexroad said he called the owner of the home, who lives out of state, to make sure that she had not agreed to lease the property without informing the agency. The owner did not know anything about leasing the home.

Rexroad then advised the couple to report the incident to the West Virginia State Police who are investigating.

Rexroad hypothesized that the scammers were utilizing sites like Zillow to find empty houses that are for sale, then creating fake rental listings for those properties.

Rexroad said the incident was reported to the Weston-Buckhannon Board of Realtors, which is sharing the scam alert with its member agencies.

The board’s secretary also contacted the regional Multiple Listing Service office in Bridgeport, where they learned similar scams had been reported elsewhere in the area.

This is the first known use of the scam in Upshur County.

“I’ve read of these stories happening in bigger cities but not here,” Rexroad said.

Going forward, Rexroad advised anyone looking into renting or leasing a home to deal with a real estate agent that they can meet in person and to make sure they see the inside of a home before agreeing to rent it.

Nowadays people are used to doing a lot of business online, but they should still take precautions, he added.

“You should never send any money without seeing the house inside and without seeing and signing a lease agreement,” Rexroad said.

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