September 24, 2021
  • September 24, 2021
  • Home
  • Wire Transfer
  • “Horrible” Online Rental Scams Are In Albany And Happen “At Least Once A Week”

“Horrible” Online Rental Scams Are In Albany And Happen “At Least Once A Week”

By on August 23, 2021 0

ALBANY – I almost fell victim to a rental scam, but they got the wrong wife.

I was days away from moving to the Capital Region to start working with The Times Union when the apartment I was moving into collapsed. Fearing that I had nowhere to stay, I rushed to find a new place to live.

An ad I found on Realtor.com – a reputable real estate site – looked perfect and more than I needed. This was a beautifully remodeled home located at 24 Belvidere Avenue in Albany, for rent at $ 800 per month with all utilities included.

The listing included three bedrooms and bathrooms accompanied by what looked like professionally taken photos offering bright and airy rooms with plenty of natural light. It sounded too good to be true.

I contacted the property through realtor.com and received an automated response that someone would get back to me soon and wait.

The scheme comes undone

The next day, I received an endless bad grammar email from a Gmail account named “Trust God”. One person, who identified himself as the owner of the house, said he taught at several universities in Michigan and Illinois and currently worked at an organization called Warrior’s Ascent, helping veterans and first responders to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder while living in Texas for the next three years.

The person said he and his wife were unsuccessful in selling the house and were looking for someone to take care of it in their absence. They stepped away from working with an agent or company and said they took time out of their “busy schedule” to find the right tenant. They sent an application.

Feeling rushed by my situation, I hurriedly applied as the information requested was generic and not too intrusive. But, there was a red flag. They asked me how much I would be willing to put aside if I were to buy the house. It didn’t suit me, but I ignored my instincts and figured I would ask about it when I saw the house in person.

The next day the person emailed me again, another ridiculously long message telling me that they had accepted my request and wanted to rent it to me.


“My wife and I have thought of you and are delighted to accept you as a new tenant because you really look like the kind of person we are looking to rent out our house,” he wrote.

The strong discomfort I had with its turnaround time and excruciating grammar made me scream no. “This is wrong,” he shouted. I ignored the email and decided to cut the ties.

The person texted me from a 712 number – an area code for Iowa – the next day about renting the house. Just for fun, I answered.

“Hello, before I choose to rent it, I would like to see it,” I replied. “Can this be fixed?” “

The person never responded. I looked at the house again and found a Zillow listing that showed it was for sale by a local real estate agent, Bryon Phelps. Phelps had no idea about the scam until I contacted him.

He and his partner, Matt Baker, bought the home in August 2020 and put it up for sale this month, according to property records.

“It’s horrible. It’s unfortunate that we have people in our world today who are just looking to rip people off, take their money and it’s sad,” Baker said.

Baker and Phelps actually didn’t try to rent the house.

Later I called the number 712 and he went straight to automation who said he couldn’t confirm my call and hung up on me. I emailed the ‘Trust God’ address and told the person that I was a reporter and now working on a story about the rental and the potential scam. They never responded.

Belvidere’s beloved home is now under contract with Phelps and the mysterious fixer is in the air and perhaps realizes the jig is in place.

Real estate scams are more common than you might think

Warrior’s Ascent, the small Kansas City-based nonprofit this person claimed to work for, is a real place. Christy Cook, the organization’s director of operations, said she had never heard of the man trying to rent the house. But the pattern was not entirely unknown to Cook.

She said she had received calls from “all over the country” about someone scamming people, identifying themselves as a member of Warrior’s Ascent. People have forwarded their emails to the scammer, but there are dead ends to expose the impostor. Lawyers for the organization are investigating the scams but have yet to find anything.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Cook said. “We are trying to save the lives of veterans and first responders with PTSD and someone using that to try to gain people’s trust is wrong.”

The New York State Department of Consumer Protection has received about 239 real estate complaints since 2018. Department spokeswoman Erin McCarthy said the schemes are executed in different ways but have the same purpose: to extract to consumers as much money as possible.

“Scammers take legitimate rental offers and repost or advertise them with their own contact information, often at tempting rates and lower than the original listing,” McCarthy said. “Transactions are usually done over the phone or email, with the scammer asking for a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or non-traceable form of payment.”

Jennifer Vucetic, president-elect of the New York State Association of Realtors, described it as a “long-standing Craigslist scam that has gone on forever.” She hears about a real estate scam at least once a week, which makes her think it happens more frequently.

“People fall in love with this all the time because they’re so desperate to get into a rental,” she said.

A spokesperson for Realtor.com agreed, saying it is a “common problem” the site faces. The real estate agent obtains rental listings from third-party data feeds. The site conditions note that Realtor.com is not responsible for confirming the accuracy or reliability of the advertisements and users of the site agree to “release” it from all liability in such cases.

Officials and real estate agents are urging tenants and potential buyers to stay on top of scams and report anything they find. The state provides resources on classic signs of a housing scam and how to report a scam.


Source link