Crime Watch: Rental scam hits Round Rock

Almost as soon as realtor Linda Graves listed a home in the Laurel Ridge subdivision of Round Rock for sale, it was gone.

Despite the "pending status" the inquiries continued, but not from potential buyers. People were calling to rent the property.

"He said he'd seen it one a Zillow ad that he had made contact by email and that he was interested in renting the house for $600 a month. And I said 'well. if that house were available for rent it would be $1,600 per month,'" said Graves. "So then we get another call from an older lady telling us the same thing. Then we get a call from a younger lady telling us the same thing."

At that point, graves went to police. She learned that a copycat posting of the "for sale" ad was on Craigslist.

"The description here is it's a house in Round Rock. 3 bedroom, 2 bath approximately 18-hundred square foot house," reads Detective Bob Watts. "When you go over to the Craigslist ad, you'll actually see a lot of the same verbiage. However, it's been changed to rental for $600 and 2 bedroom, 2 bath."

Round Rock PD Detective Bob Watts can immediately see the red flags.

"First of all the too good to be true," said Watts. "The area you're renting. That price is not offered anywhere else. You're going to see a lack of credentials; the ads will lack photographs or address details missing."

But what may be confusing is once the address is known, potential renters can find the posting with photos and detailed information on legit websites. In this case it was Zillow. They can also drive by the actual house and see a real estate sign in the yard.

In this market, those seeking rentals are more likely to be frantic as properties are few and far between. Their judgment may be skewed.

It's a costly error.

"The problem is once they get money out of somebody they try to bleed them for as much as they can. Usually there's an initial hey, hold this I'm going to need an initial deposit say $500 then if they can continue and keep them going they'll say we're going to need a security deposit and first month's rent," said Watts.

Watts saw a similar type of scam during the foreclosure crisis in 2008.

Now that it's back for this rental crunch, as he calls it, he's hoping to get ahead of the scammers by warning the public before anyone else falls victim.

"They're savvy," said Graves.

Graves advises house hunters to seek the assistance of a realtor.

"Your realtor is going to be able to tell you if a home is on the market, if it is active, if it currently has an offer on it, even if it's with rentals we know when it has something on it. The rental market goes so fast, it's a very fast-paced market and you really need to deal with an agent who works with rentals," said Graves.

In the meantime, Round Rock detectives will be posing as renters to see if they can bring the scammers to justice.

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