Mom falls victim to home rental scam

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Imagine going into the holidays knowing you have to find a new place to live by the end of the year because your lease is running out.

Now imagine that you send in a deposit on a new home, only to learn the home doesn't exist, and you have no place to live -- and no money.

That's the nightmare one single mom is facing this holiday season.

Jennifer Sebastian needs a home for the holidays.

The working mom and her two kids have to leave their current rental house at the end of the year.

She was thrilled to find a recently built three-bedroom home for rent for only $800 a month, just a few streets away from her current place.

So they drove by to look at it.

"We got out and looked around and looked in it through the windows and stuff, and the kids were very excited," she said.

Her children fell in love. "It was the perfect place," Sebastian said.

Only one catch: The landlord was out of town, so he asked her via text and email to wire $1,000, one month's rent plus security deposit, to a long distance number he provided.

"He said as soon as I made the payment, the keys would be on the way," she said.

You've probably guessed the rest.  So did Sebastian, when the keys failed to show up and the landlord disappeared along with her deposit. She also got no response to her texts.

She had just become the latest victim of a home rental scam: one house, two listings.

She searched online and found the legitimate listing for that rental house: It was not $800 but $1,200 a month, out of her price range.

"I guess I should have figured out it was too good to be true," she said.

But foreign scammers now copy home and apartment listings all the time, re-posting them on Craigslist and rental sites at much lower prices. Once you wire the deposit to the scammer, who is typically in Russia, Africa, or another foreign country, it is gone forever. Families are left with drained bank accounts and no home for Christmas.

We tried to reach this scammer by his phone number and email address, but we got no answer and no response.

"It's impossible right now," an emotional Sebastian said. "But we'll just take it one step at a time."

The good news is that since our initial interview, several people have reached out and offered to help Sebastian with a rental home in her area, so she now has several options for the new year.

Meanwhile, if you are searching for a rental, be suspicious of any listing where the price seems very low compared to other homes or apartments in the area.

And never send a deposit to someone you haven't met in person, so you don't waste your money.

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