Couple Warns of ‘Sophisticated’ St. Pete Rental Program
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla .– A couple from St. Pete have found themselves embroiled in what they describe as a sophisticated rental scam while taking pandemic precautions when looking for a new home.
Laura Mulrooney and Chad Lance were looking for a two-bedroom house when someone contacted them about a property on 21st Avenue North in St. Petersburg.
“We really couldn’t believe we had the option of having the space we just wanted in the neighborhood we wanted,” Mulrooney said.
They say it was not posted on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and believed they were speaking with an owner associated with the rental agency, Main Street Renewal.
“Everyone I spoke to said, like the lawyer, just make sure you see the house, just make sure you walk into the house,” Lance said. “And the guy is like it’s COVID, we’re doing it through Rently.”
Rental has become a popular option for listing agents and tenants during the pandemic.
It offers people access to self-guided tours of the properties using a one-time electronic code to enter.
Investigators believe the unknown suspect was likely familiar with the third-party app and used it to his advantage.
Mulrooney and Lance say the man who identified himself as Clark J. Peterson had first-hand knowledge of the interior of the property while leading them through their self-guided tour by phone.
“He told us exactly which doors to lock to make sure the door to this one is locked, make sure the door to this one is locked,” Mulrooney said.
Within a day, the couple had been approved and signed what appeared to be a legitimate lease.
“I was scammed,” Mulrooney said. “And I consider myself relatively smart and thorough in my research and it has happened.”
Registration through Main Street Renewal is $ 1,800 per month. Mulrooney and Lance were offered to rent the house at about half that price.
They paid $ 1,400 for the first month’s rent and a security deposit through Zelle before realizing they wouldn’t get the keys to their new home.
“Bank transfers are always a little harder to follow, especially with Zelle, Cash App, and Venmo,” Det said. Bryan Andrews. “And that’s because you can usually create a profile with limited information or even fictitious information, which makes it harder on our end when we go to a subpoena to try to determine who the real owner is. . “
Main Street Renewal has a sign displayed on the front window of the property warning of potential scams.
Mulrooney and Lance both remember the unknown suspect referring to the sign in an attempt to outrun them.
“I need more and more people to find out because this is a very sophisticated scam,” Mulrooney said.
Main Street Renewal sent ABC Action News the following statement:
“We continue to work to proactively identify potential scammers so that appropriate steps can be taken to protect our current and potential residents, and our communities. If an individual is in one of our homes or attempting to rent one of our homes is affected, we strongly encourage We regularly update the fraud prevention recommendations posted on our website and urge potential residents to look for visible signs posted on all of our homes on best security practices, where to find verified lists and how to spot a rental scam As a rule of thumb, we never advertise on Craigslist or Facebook, and never ask for payment through PayPal or other apps.
Consumers should never sign a lease unless it has been provided by an official representative of the property management company, for a house clearly listed on that company’s website. We recommend that residents who rent a home be wary of rents posted at a lower price than typical for the neighborhood, as scammers often create bogus listings with very low rent amounts. If contacted by an owner who claims they are overseas, it is likely a scam. Consumers should never wire funds or make a payment through a payments app, and should never release personal information such as a social security number or financial information such as bank account numbers. If approached by someone requesting any of this information, consumers should contact local authorities to report the incident. “
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