JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local woman is out $1,700 after she paid a "phony landlord" to rent a home in Oakleaf Plantation, only to be forced out of the home a few days later.
"I was just looking for a house on Craigslist,' said Kiewanna Belton.
Belton found a home listed by someone who identified himself as Dell King on the online marketplace.
"He asked how soon can I move in and I said I was looking for something before Christmas," she said.
It was during Thanksgiving week and she filled out a rental agreement via email.
"It looked legitimate, so I went for it," she said.
Looking back, she said there were red flags.
The so-called landlord was out of state and couldn't meet face to face. He also instructed Belton to wire the first rent of $850 from a Walmart store to an address in Pittsburgh if she wanted to rent the house.
To make the scheme more credible, he provided her the combination to an MLS lock on the door with a house key inside of it. She was able to get in.
On December 1, Belton wired the security deposit, another $850 to the Pittsburgh address and moved into her Oakleaf Plantation rental.
"My family members were with me and my kids were excited," she said.
The excitement would be short-lived, however. A few days later, they came home to a notice on the door and the locks changed.
"My stuff was already in the house, the groceries were put away," Belton said..
The rightful owner, a California-based company, told her that the person she was renting from is not associated with the property.
In other words, the person she paid $1,700 to does not have legal rights to the property.
"I was hurt and devastated," Belton said. "I cried and cried, my kids were devastated everybody was crying."
She is now filing a complaint with the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
Ironically, King apologized and promised a refund, but that too was another empty promise.
"Hopefully we can catch him," she said.
The FBI has created this list to minimize your chances of becoming a victim:
- "Only deal with landlords or renters who are local
- Be suspicious if you're asked to only use a wire transfer service
- Beware of e-mail correspondence from the 'landlord' that's written in poor or broken English
- Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower
- Don't give out personal information like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers"