Scammed and homeless

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By VICKI BROWN

Scams are becoming more and more creative and innovative.

Patrice Johnson, her husband and grandmother were recent victims of such a scam. As self-described educated and responsible people, the shock at finding themselves in such a situation has been hard to take, they said. It all started when Johnson read on Facebook about a company that rents houses.

American Homes 4 Rent boasts that it is one of the top residential leasing companies in the nation. According to their website, they have a “streamlined” rental process that allows people to tour a home, apply and receive a lease for a rental very quickly… “all within a lunch break.”

Johnson said she was excited about this and contacted a gentleman from the Facebook notice who claimed to be from American Homes 4 Rent. “We were worried that this might be sketchy, so we checked out the company online and asked questions, using due diligence,” said Johnson. “We contacted the man on the Facebook page, asked to see the property, were given permission, and drove to the location. The gentleman was on the phone with us the entire time, and gave us a code/combination for the lockbox on the front door.

“We put in the code, a key fell out, and we went in and toured the house with him on the phone explaining everything to us room by room. We told him we loved the house, and he subsequently sent us a contract to sign. We signed it, returned it, sent in a $1,000 deposit on Zelle and went back to the house several times the next week to check out things. Then we paid the first month’s rent for a total of $2,500,” she said.

Moving day came and Johnson’s family loaded up the U-Haul and went to their new home. Unfortunately, when they arrived, they discovered another family had just moved in.

“We all were shocked. I showed the other renters my key and how it fit their front door. They were very unhappy. The other family had gone through a realtor, but we had used the American Homes 4 Rent company Facebook page, which claims that everything is done by phone and very fast.

“The other family was already in place, and we found ourselves homeless,” Johnson said.

She contacted the company, who claimed they changed the lockbox codes every hour, telling her there was no way a scammer could have stolen the code and used it to give Johnson the key. Johnson then tried to contact the man who rented them the home. He answered and said that there must be some sort of mix up, and he would call them back.

They still haven’t heard from him.

Johnson contacted American Homes 4 Rent, who denied any knowledge of the event.

Johnson quickly contacted her bank and reported the fraud on Zelle. She also filed a police report in Colleton County and Berkeley County. It will take several weeks to straighten out the bank funds, and in the meantime, Johnson and her family are homeless. “I never thought I would find myself in this position,” she said. “I am so embarrassed. I am educated, smart and know to check things out before signing anything. Everything looked legitimate. How else was I able to get a code and a key? And now, my husband, grandmother, my children and I are homeless. I never thought this could happen to me.”

American Homes 4 Rent did not respond to requests for an interview.

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