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I-TEAM uncovers scam involving renting homes that have already been sold

Channel 3′s I-Team uncovered an elaborate rental scam in Newington.
Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 9:23 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2022 at 9:29 AM EDT
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NEWINGTON, CT (WFSB) - A Connecticut mother thought she found her dream home.

She said she got the keys, toured the house, and made a deposit. Days later, she learned the home was already sold.

Channel 3′s I-Team uncovered an elaborate rental scam in Newington.

“There was extra space for the kids to have room and the fact that it had a lot of closets,” said Janira Rivera, a victim of the scam.

Rivera was on the outside looking in to a home that she was ready to rent.

“This would have been perfect,” she said.

However, the home she thought was up for rent was a home that had already been sold.

“I already knew he had scammed me,” Rivera revealed.

Rivera said she was on Craigslist, and the home caught her eye.

She set up a meeting with the person who posted the ad.

She said he went by the name “Alex.”

“He said that they are an office that helps landlords find tenants to rent the homes to,” Rivera explained.

Rivera met Alex face-to-face at this office building in Meriden, and he gave her the keys.

“He was like, ‘take the keys, enter through the side kitchen. When you’re done, leave the keys in the drawer,’” she recalled.

After touring the home with her four kids, she told Alex she was interested.

He had her fill out an application and it looked legit. It asked for employment and included other screening questions.

“He lets me know that we are offered the house and that we needed to pay first month’s rent, second month’s rent, a security deposit and a $500 maintenance and insurance fee,” Rivera said.

That was a total of $4,050.

“[He] tells me they have a business account with Cash App,” Rivera said.

So, she sent it.

“He tells me that he has to confirm with somebody that they got it,” she said. “He does and tells me he’ll meet tomorrow for the keys and the lease.”

However, Alex would never show.

“I know people say, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it’s fake,’ but if you’re giving me the keys, no scammer would give you keys,” Rivera said.

Rivera said she later learned the home was for sale and actually sold at the same time it was being shopped around on Craigslist to rent.

“If I got the keys on Saturday, I would have started moving in on Sunday,” she said. “These owners would have come into a house full of people.

Rivera said she contacted the realtor, and together, they pieced together how the scam came together.

They said the “for sale” sign was missing, and the lockbox for keys was stolen.

“They changed everything,” Rivera said. “They changed the locks to the house. They changed the garage key.”

The scammer also stole Rivera’s pride.

“You’re taking someone’s hopes and dreams,” she said. “You scammed me like, you really thought this out and sat down and decided this is the person I want to take from.”

Rivera said she was still out more than $4,000, and it remained unclear if she’d ever get it back.

She said she reached out to Cash App.

“I was told to reach out to the person I sent the money to,” Rivera said. “So, they’re telling me in three emails to reach out to my scammer and get my money back from my scammer.”

She said Cash App was investigating, but during that time, she found it troubling that the scammer’s account was still active.

“I want them to take responsibility for the protection of consumers,” Rivera said. “If I’m using your app, I understand it’s supposed to be family-to-family. But I expect you to freeze accounts when it’s reported as a scam.”

“We’ve reached out to Cash App on behalf of this consumer,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

The sophistication of the scam and the struggle to get Rivera’s money back caught the attention of Tong.

“Electronic payment apps are not the same thing as bank-guaranteed credit cards or checks,” he said.

Tong said because money transferring apps don’t offer the same protections as banks, customers should only use them to send money to people they know.

“If they won’t share a phone number or an address, or they won’t tell you where they work, you don’t have to do business with them,” he said.

Police in Meriden and Newington said they are on Rivera’s case while she’s still looking for a bigger home.

“You just took from me, $4,000. I can replace that. I’ll get that back because they will catch him, but I’m not going to be able to give my kids an affordable home,” Rivera said.

In addition to sticking to more traditional forms of payment when renting an apartment, Tong sought to remind renters that they’re in control during the apartment search. He urged renters to do research on the people they’re working with and the home they’re looking to rent.