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Charlotte rental scam swindling families out of their homes and money

Scammers are pretending to own houses and are renting them out to victims in order to steal rent money, according to FirstKey Homes.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An elaborate scam in Charlotte is swindling families out of money and their homes, according to police and a large rental company.

FirstKey Homes owns hundreds of real properties across the Charlotte area. The company told WCNC Charlotte scammers are pretending to own some of its houses and are renting them out to victims to collect rent money.

India Green said she fell victim to the scam after moving from Virginia with her two sons. She moved into a house at the beginning of August only to find out she doesn't have permission to be there. 

"I came down here to build a better life for my family, not to be taken advantage of," Green said. "I don’t deserve that.” 

Green found the rental listing for the house online. After calling who she thought was the property owner, the alleged owner gave her a code to the lock box on the front door so she could tour the house on her own.

"He sounds like a good person, this is a nice home, so I said, 'Hey let's go with it,'" Green explained.  

After signing this lease, moving in, and paying over $1,300 to the alleged property owner, Green said a representative for FirstKey Homes showed up at the house days later, saying she had to leave. 

FirstKey representative Brandon Black, who spoke with Green about the situation, explained that the codes to the lock boxes on houses are ending up in the wrong hands. 

"It's an overwhelming amount of scammers that we’ve been dealing with for that last two or three months,” Black said. 

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He said that families all over Charlotte are getting duped by people pretending to own the houses and giving out the codes. The company is working to move away from the lock boxes to stop the scam, according to Black.

"It's happening way too often and so many innocent people," Black said. "It's usually people from out of town that the scammers are getting a hold of."

WCNC Charlotte called and spoke with the alleged scammer Green rented the house from. He claimed that he owns the property and that he hired FirstKey Homes to market the house, but is running into issues with them.   

However, Black maintained that they do not know the man and said his name continuously pops in scamming issues they are trying to fix. 

Mecklenburg County records show that FirstKey Homes does, in fact, own the house. Some of the neighbors in Green's neighborhood said they are also renting homes from FirstKey. 

Black explained that when this happens, FirstKey requires the scamming victim to vacate the house. However, if they have to go through the eviction process, it could take a couple of months. Green wants to stay in the home, but Black said another renter is already lined up to live there. 

Green said she has notified her bank of the fraudulent charges and will look for another home in the area if she is forced to leave.

To help others avoid falling for a rental scam, Shivam Patel, owner and broker in charge of Patel Standard Realty, suggested researching the property before paying or signing anything.

"If you check the property records and find [the owner's] name, and ask who to make the check out to, that name better match up," Patel warned. If the names don't match, that's a red flag. "You can also ask for the driver’s license as a double backup.” 

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Patel explained that it's easy to check a property's tax records online. 

"All you have to do is search a county’s tax records, type in the property’s address, and find what’s there and what’s not," Patel said. 

Black discouraged people from renting through Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, as scams can be more common. However, Patel added that scams can pop up on home rental sites as well.

Red flags to look out for, according to Patel, are if the price seems too good to be true or if the listing is found on several different websites but has inconsistencies in the details. 

The scam has been reported to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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