In a desperate search for a new home, a local woman says someone pretending to be a renter swindled her for $500.
Heather Valdez says it started when she saw a post on Facebook Marketplace advertising a three-bedroom, two-bathroom rental home in a neighborhood just off Ocean View Ave.
The price? Only $600 a month for a home across the street from the beach.
"It looked like a good deal. I messaged the person and asked them if it's still available. They told me it was," said Valdez.
Valdez says her daughters were robbed at gunpoint in her current neighborhood. She is looking to move and wanted to find a new situation quickly.
According to Valdez, the person on the other end of the message, Kimberly, said she lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, and had the house key there, but if Valdez wanted the home, she said she could check out the outside.
Valdez saw the home and liked it, so she asked about signing a lease. She tells News 3, Kimberly wanted first month's rent first, which could be paid in person several hours away in Blacksburg or through PayPal. Valdez says she took the second option.
"I didn't want to go to Blacksburg, but they created a sense of urgency for me to pay the deposit so no one would get it before me," said Valdez. "I went to follow the PayPal link and it wasn't working. I thought it was something on my side so the person said other tenants would use a MoneyPak card that's refillable."
Valdez says she purchased a MoneyPak card, which are known to be used in various scams, and put the maximum $500 on it.
"They told me a time to meet me at the house that I was going to rent (at 10 p.m.) to give me the keys and sign the lease. I went there and found out that the real owner didn't know anything about the house being for rent. It's for sale and they didn't know what I was talking about," she said.
After that incident, Valdez she says filed a police report and messaged Kimberly, which didn't go through. News 3 called a phone number Valdez says Kimberly provided and also reached out via email to no response.
Police told Valdez she was scammed.
"I couldn't believe that I fell for it," she told News 3. "After I paid that we had only $100 left for the week. That's gas for [my husband], gas for me, food for all of us."
Local real estate broker Tim Gifford says it's a scam that's been around for a while: People will swipe pictures from real estate websites and post them to Craigslist, Facebook and other social media passing it off as their own properties.
"If it's too good to be true, it generally is," he said.
Gifford says red flags in this case include Valdez being unable to see the inside of the home except through pictures and the lack of a credit check.