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Realtors warn public of online rental scam

WATSONVILLE—Local realtors and brokers are urging the community to be aware of an online rental scam that is taking advantage of desperate renters.

The scam strips information from sale listings on various websites, repackages them as hyper-affordable rental listings and posts them on sites such as Craigslist and Zillow, hoping prospective renters will transfer the scammer the first, last and security deposit payments site unseen.

Keller Williams Broker Associate Jordan Thorpe, who operates in the Pajaro Valley, said he recently received three calls in a little more than a week from people who were confused if one of his properties was for sale or rent.

“I got another call [Friday] morning and I realized something was going on,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe said he has contacted Watsonville Police Department about the scam.

He also contacted Craigslist but has not yet received a response.

Thorpe said the scam is targeting local families that have had trouble finding housing in today’s ultra-competitive market with an enticing price range and a no-hassle process. The scammer urges them to not drive by the house and that time is of the essence.

“They’re taking advantage of people’s desperation and it’s really sad,” he said. “It’s heart-wrenching that people do this.”

Fellow broker and realtor Renee Mello said her properties have also been taken advantage of by similar scammers. She advised prospective renters to always see the property in person and meet with the owner or broker.

“If the house is for rent or for sale, the sign will always say,” she said. “It’s always important to see it for yourself and not trust everything that you see online. If they trust everything online, then they’re going to be in a bit of trouble.”

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Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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