Fox 8 Defenders: Scammers posing as landlords putting renters at risk

Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 10:58 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The pandemic may have created a more dangerous situation for renters in search of a place to live.

Ben Anderson considers himself an experienced landlord. He owns five properties in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. He manages over a dozen tenants and has been at it for more than 20 years.

“Never in that amount of time have I experienced a scam of this nature and frequency,” Anderson says.

A few weeks ago, Anderson was working on a house he owns in Gentilly when he says something caught his attention.

“A gentleman knocked on my door and said he was going to meet someone there at 10 a.m., gave a name, and I said, ‘I’m not this person,’” Anderson recalled.

The man standing at the door was a reverend who found a listing for Anderson’s rental property on Facebook. He showed up, money in hand, to sign a lease. Problem is, Anderson didn’t list the home on Facebook.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be robbed or if someone was going to meet us there,” Anderson says.

He had good reason to be on edge. Earlier that week, a young traveling nurse contacted him to say she believed she was about to be scammed as she attempted to rent that same house the reverend showed up at.

“Someone, scammer, would be, direct messaged her with my listing. Changed the pictures. So this person knew that traveling nurses required furnished apartments.... so it wasn’t the interior, it was the exterior,” Anderson says.

Luckily, Anderson says the nurse realized something was up when the person posing as him asked for the first month’s rent to be sent via a money-exchanging app.

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“She had the wherewithal to go back to, verify my listing. She contacted me to let me know that’s what was going on,” Anderson said.


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Social media expert and Tulane University professor Ashley Nelson says scammers use any and every avenue to try to take advantage of people and they’re becoming more aggressive.

Nelson says she believes the pandemic greatly affected the scams that were already operating.

“People are getting used to doing things from home and they’re on their computers a lot so I do believe it’s increased because it’s just so much easier,” Nelson explains. “If you just catch a couple of people you’ve got several thousands of dollars coming in.”

Anderson says the scariest part is the fact that the scammer wanted to meet the victim in person. That’s exactly what realtor Amanda Miller says happened with one of her listings.

“They actually met her at the property and took the cash from her, physically,” Miller said.

She says a young woman saw a listing on Facebook for a property in Chalmette.

“It was listed for a lot lower than what the real value was for the property. So she reached out to them,” Miller explained. “They ended up sending her an application to fill out, which is super scary. That contains a lot of personal information that you just don’t want anybody having on the streets. If they can get your driver’s license number, your social security number, and of course, your routing and your checking account numbers, then they have you.”

Miller says the person online also asked the young woman to send $70 for an application fee. She paid it using Apple pay. Then, they told the young woman to meet them at the house.

They reportedly told the woman “don’t worry about contacting the realtor.”

Miller says the young woman went to the house, armed with the first month’s rent and a security deposit in cash.

“She handed them the cash then they said, ‘we need identification that you are who you say you are,’ as she turned around to get her license out of the vehicle, they jumped in their car and ran,” Miller says. “Being in this industry as long as I have, I’ve never physically seen or heard such a situation where they met her at the location, which is quite scary.”

The young woman in Chalmette and other victims we’ve heard about aren’t alone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports consumers lost more than $5 billion dollars to fraud in 2021, up more than 70% from the previous year.

Imposter scams, posing as someone else, were the most commonly reported.

Nelson thinks Facebook is the platform most commonly used.

(North Port Police Department)

“I think it’s a perfect place for scammers. I mean it’s so easy if you find a vulnerable person to respond,” Nelson said.

According to new data from cybersecurity firm Lookout, around 62% of Facebook users encounter scams every week.

The St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office put out an alert to its residents urging extra vigilance online, specifically when trying to rent a property. Investigators acknowledge these types of crimes can be difficult to solve.

“It’s terrible. We are, as realtors, are supposed to protect the public and this... she’s such a victim of such a terrible scam and this just seems too easy for people to get away with such a terrible crime,” Miller said.

Miller believes it’s crucial to either go through a reputable realtor or do your due diligence.

“Go to the St. Bernard assessor or whatever city you’re living in. Check to see if the name actually matches the person that you’re speaking to,” Miller explained.

Experts also warn to never pay someone through a money-exchanging app without verifying their identity first.

Nelson believes we’ll only continue to see scammers at work as more apps and social media sites proliferate our everyday lives.

“Things are invented and created for good and then there are people who figure out how to take advantage of it,” Nelson says.

The St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office says if anyone else in the parish has been the victim of a scam, similar to the young woman in Chalmette, investigators want to hear from them. We reached out to Facebook for comment on this story but never heard back.

If you have a consumer complaint you’d like us to look into, call the Fox 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397. Or click here to fill out our online complaint form, which is the easiest way to reach us.

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