"House stealing" on the Internet - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

"House stealing" on the Internet

This consumer warning.

Due to the economy rental homes are hot properties right now.

Even hotter, scam artists advertising homes for rent online illegally that they do not own.

Last year we investigated this overseas rip off called "house stealing."

A reservoir area home for sale ended up on Craigslist as a rental property, really cheap.

It freaked the owner out when people showed up on her doorstep.

"It scared me to death and I know people are out of jobs and money and times are hard and the thought of someone would use my home to steal money from somebody was just sickening," Dana Harpole said.

Again in June, WLBT reported on a 3 bedroom property listed on Hotpads.com for $800 a month rent, fully furnished with utilities.

The bogus renter claimed to be in England.

"Some of them are being told they will be handed the keys to the property before they have ever been inside the property," said Jo Usry, CEO of the Jackson Association of Realtors.

The latest person who had their home virtually stolen online, Sharon Durham.

A realtor.

Information on the realtors personal 3,000 square foot northeast Jackson home was ripped off and re-posted by a stranger on a third web site.

"My house is not for rent," Durham said.

Has it ever been for rent? Never has."

Yet Friday people from Tennessee showed up on the doorstep to rent the sprawling home.

"They were trying to be sure that it was legit. They felt like something was not right," said Durham at her home Tuesday.

And it wasn't.

Overseas scammers faked Durham's legitimate sales listing, illegally cutting and pasting information and pictures onto other web sites.

The phones rang off the hook.

"Over 100 calls in a week," Durham said.

"You're kidding?" "No, that's because the rent was listed at $800 a month and $650 deposit."

The Tennessee couple showed Sharon Durham an online reply from a Deborah Durham.

This person posed at the real homeowner.

She even used the same last name. 

Red flag number 2: This person claimed to be in London and needed a tenant.

"The grammar is very poor so that's also a red flag," Sharon Durham said.

Even better, the scammer is in a big hurry, needs a tenant urgently according to the fake listing.

The scammers' email to the Tennessee couple indicates the beautiful home is shown by "drive by only!"

You don't get to inspect the house before you rent or get the key, until you wire the stranger about $1500.

"Many people will think it's a great deal for $800 a month and send them a security deposit and I'm sure never heard from them," Durham said.

Experts say be sure you are familiar with online rental property before you bank on a front door key.

When we showed the latest phony rental listing on a third web site, Bill Moak with the Better Business Bureau said, "This is spreading out a little bit from what we are familiar with."

Copyright 2011 WLBT. All rights reserved.

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