SAN DIEGO — San Diego property managers want to warn the public about a new rental scam they say is so sophisticated renters are able to get a key, make a deposit and move in only to be told they have to get out.
When property manager Jason Gire walks into one of his vacant listings, he said he must now make sure he isn’t entering an already occupied home.
“Three times this month, we've actually had to go and confiscate keys and escort them out,” Gire said.
It turns out, Gire's company didn't rent out these homes – a crook did by posing as his company Noble Properties in order to attract San Diego renters looking for rare deals.
"They're essentially copying our ad and [using] the same photos that we take,” Gire said. “They're just offering it at a much cheaper price. So, people jump on it.”
The prospective renter gets an emailed application as well as a fake link to apply. And, as with most scams, the person is asked for an upfront, wire-transferred deposit. But unlike most scams, the renter gets something out of it: the house key.
"They get instructions to remove the key from the [lock]box,” said Gire.
The "out of town" scam artist is able to access that lockbox directly through the property manager's website by creating “bogus identities” Gire said. They pose as someone looking to rent and if the identity check goes through the software will generate a lockbox code. The real prospective renter then gets the key and moves in - only to be thrown out.
"It’s a tough situation when you have to come to a house and tell people ‘I'm sorry you've been duped. You got to get your things and get out,’” said Gire.
The Better Business Bureau says rental scams aren't new and regardless of how sophisticated there are red flags. The key is: the real key isn't yours unless you've met the homeowner or property manager in person.
Gire said he is working with law enforcement on the issue but scammers are usually hard to trace and most people aren't able to get their money back.