PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Alina Gomez said she's been looking for a place to rent for about a year now. So, when she saw a Port St. Lucie home listed on Facebook for $1,400, she knew she had to act fast.
"Especially for the prices right now," she said.
She called the listing, got the keys to tour the home through the Rently app, signed a lease and was told she could start moving in.
But, at the urging of friends, she did more research and found the home was owned by a real estate company.
She called them.
"I said, 'Well, someone is trying to rent it out, saying they own it,' and she said, 'Well, it's a scam then if they say that,'" Gomez explained.
It turns out a criminal took Gomez for $2,800.
"Completely and utterly violated," Gomez told WPTV. "They didn't just violate me. They violated my kids. You feel torn apart."
Port St. Lucie police said they've had 16 similar incidents in the past six months, resulting in unsuspecting renters losing anywhere from $500 to $3,600.
"The best thing to always do is work with a local real estate agent," Port St. Lucie police Assistant Chief Richard Del Toro said. "(They) know the market. They know the owners personal. They're representing the owners."
Michelle Miller, the St. Lucie County clerk and comptroller, told WPTV some legal property owners have even had their properties fraudulently sold.
"It is a big problem and it's a growing problem," Miller said.
She said someone recently listed a Port St. Lucie lot and sold it for $92,000. The rightful owner now has to go to court to try and reclaim the property.
Miller is hoping more people will sign up for the free property fraud alert service through her office.
"That will allow you to be notified within 24 hours via text or email should anybody record anything in your name," she said. "It also works for business liens and property owners."
Back at the home that Gomez hoped would be hers, an employee with Main Street Renewal, which owns the property, was putting up new warning signs.
"If it seems to be too good to be true — the price is a lot lower than what the market is renting at — that would be a red flag right there as well," Kurt Reid said.
It's advice Gomez is now taking to heart when it comes to online listings.
"Do not even look at them," Gomez told herself. "Do not even click on them."