MOUNT VERNON — There are those from afar who are doing their nefarious best to scam local people out of thousands of dollars, money they thought was going toward a home rental, says a property manager privy to the tactics used. In fact, he has conversed with a scammer this week, just to see how they operate.
Thom Collier works in sales and property management for e-Merge Real Estate in Mount Vernon. He is also a Knox County Commissioner. Collier said he has spoken with people who have been taken advantage of due to the tight home rental market in Knox County, in which finding an affordable home can be a difficult challenge. And the scammers know it, he said.
Collier has heard of instances where the alleged scammers draw those hoping to rent into a website. An arrangement is made to meet a potential renter at a home to show it to them. At the last minute, the hopeful renter receive a text, with the scammer saying he or she cannot make it.
Then comes the hook: The scammer asks for them to send an application along with a first month’s, and last month’s, rent, along with a security deposit. In exchange, the scammer will provide the keys to the home. Only, it ends up that the keys never show up — and the renter is bilked out of a few thousand dollars.
Often, Collier alleges, scammers steal photos and other information from property management companies. They look legitimate, but hardly are. The main lesson to be learned, he said, is never to send a large sum of money to someone you have not met in person. There are not even phone calls permitted by the scammers, he said. It is all done by email, text, and if it goes far enough money, sent through a bank or money transfer and pickup service, such as that offered by WalMart.
Collier provided a set of texts between himself and an alleged scammer sent between the two on Thursday, concerning a home Collier expresses interest in on Westwood Drive in Mount Vernon. The person asks Collier if he has gone to view the house already, to which Collier replies “We drove by. It looks great.” The kicker here: Collier owns the home the alleged scammer is trying to rent him.
The alleged scammer asks Collier for his email address from which to send the rental application. Collier provides his email address — but then tells the person he would prefer to send his rental application through the regular mail. “Send it my email address OK!” the person replies. The person sends Collier a gmail address. Then in somewhat of a twist, the alleged scammer asks Collier if he is “crime free,” to which Collier replies, “Of course.”
The alleged scammer texts, “Good, am asking you this because am not local I’m out of state right now I got transferred due to my work and that’s the main reason why am leasing the house and all I want is someone that can take good care of the property someone neat and honest.” Collier responds that he can do that and asks what he needs to do.
The alleged scammer then asks Collier if he has funds for the first month’s rent, last month’s rent and deposit ready to send — and even asks, “what about the other month, how are you going to be paying that?” Collier responds that the ad only mentions needing a first month’s rent and deposit. The person then said “am only asking this to be sure on how you’re paying.”
Collier asks how to make payment. The person responds, “You can make the payment through bank mobile transfer or a Walmart to Walmart transfer.” Collier responds that he can do Walmart and asks how to proceed. The alleged scammer then provides his name along with a city, state, and zip code in New Jersey. “Get back to me with picture of receipt as evidence of payment once you get it done.” the person says.
Collier responds, “Okay, isn’t there a lease agreement to sign or anything? How will I know I will get the keys?” The alleged scammer responds, “Am a man of my words you will surely get the keys once you make your payment I already have your details I will prepare the lease and send it to you once I get the confirmation of your payment.”
Collier then asks the alleged scammer, “So you own this house?” to which the person replies, “I think we have discussed this before, so why are you asking me again?” Collier replies, “I never asked you this before. It’s a bit of a risk to send, someone I don’t know, and have never met, this much money without anything in writing. You mentioned you are out of state on business. Are you in NJ? Am I sending the money to you or someone else?”
The alleged scammer responds, “Am sorry if I sound rude, but I told you I got transferred due to my work, you have nothing to worry about this is a legitimate transaction I can’t scam you over your hard earning am a devoted Christian and am married with 3 kids I have my own family too, once I get confirmation of your payment the house is yours.”
The money never was sent as, in this case, Collier said he wanted to show how easily someone could be bilked out of several thousand dollars. The alleged scammer, in fact, was trying to rent Collier his own home. He said he considers it a public service to alert people to how such scams can work. As fellow county commissioner Bill Pursel said, scammers are always seeking to stay “one step ahead” with the newest fraud available to them.”