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Online housing scams on the rise in South Florida, cybersecurity experts say

Residents advised being cautious about real estate posts on social media
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 18:26:39-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Due to the current, unprecedented housing market in South Florida, cybersecurity experts say online housing scams are on the rise.  

Driving for Uber and Lyft is how Joseph Veres, who is deaf, pays his bills.  

"It's easy work, and I enjoy it," he told WPTV. "The schedule is very flexible."

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Veres has been working overnight, trying to save money to rent his dream home in Lake Clarke Shores.  

"I looked online and I saw this house and it seemed very nice," Veres said.  

The Craiglist post he's referring to advertised a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home available to rent for $1,000 a month, which is well below the average price of rent right now in Palm Beach County.  

Amy Hair, Joseph Veres, housing scam victim
Translator Amy Hair discusses how Joseph Veres (left) was the victims of a housing scam in Palm Beach County.

"He told me to get gift cards. He wanted me to send the money," Veres said. "He told me to take a picture of the front and the back of the card and the receipt and send it to him."

He sent the alleged landlord $4,000 and later discovered he, unfortunately, got scammed.  

"I called the business, no longer in service," his American Sign Language interpreter, Amy Hair, said. "I called the other cellphone number. That was out of service."

Hair made some calls to friends in the real estate business and learned the house is actually under contract right now.  

"I never saw this happen before," Veres said. "It just seemed like everybody was legitimate, and I didn't know that he was a scammer."

Palm Beach County resident Holly Kriss, housing scam victim
Holly Kriss explains how she was the victim of housing scammers.

The same thing happened to Palm Beach County resident Holly Kriss. She told WPTV it happened to her more than 10 times.  

"We would get to the houses, [and] they would be occupied by another person," Kriss said. "One day, there was a lady running around in a robe, and she didn't know what was going on."

Like Veres, Kriss used Cragslist.com, along with Realtor.com and Rently.com.  

"What they do is sometimes, they bait you into seeing the house, but then they'll fax you or email you all these personal information forms," Kriss said.

Last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced two arrests in a complex real estate scam.  

Duarte Perreira, cybersecurity expert
Duarte Perreira explains what residents should look for to avoid becoming a victim of housing scammers.

Tabria Josey and Kiana Kiara Russell are accused of tricking more than 40 victims in South Florida into paying them nearly $300,000.  

FDLE said the scammers would list properties for sale on various real estate websites without the owner's knowledge and would even sometimes impersonate the owners.  

The crime spanned six counties including Indian River, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.  

"People are desperate (to find) a place to live here in South Florida," the chief technical officer of the cybersecurity company FitechGelb, Duarte Perreira, said.  

"You should always cross-reference with other websites," Perreira said. "Don't just trust a website that you come across, or, especially social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, because they could be a scam."

Perreira also said people should never send cash to anyone before seeing the home.  

"I learned my lesson because I got scammed," Veres said.  

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