Winter Haven family loses $600 in rent-to-own scam

WINTER HAVEN Fla. (WFLA) - A Winter Haven family is out nearly $600 after falling victim to a rent to-own scam.

Cassidy Hernandez saw an ad posted on the Facebook page "863 for sale or free," which is a yard sale-type page. A woman was selling a rent-to-own property. The person advertised the home for $650 a month, or $550 for the month if you cleaned it. The seller advertised the rent was cheap because there were a number of issues with the property and the home needed several repairs.

The victim met the woman and someone who claimed to be an attorney at the property for a tour. The woman claimed her grandma up north was dying of cancer so she needed to sell the house quickly.

"We came to the property and met her there. She had a lease written up. She had a fake lawyer there, anything that would make it look legit. She asked for proof of income, IDs, anything. It seemed real," Hernandez said.

After looking at the home and going over the house's problems, Hernandez signed the lease, paid the cash and got the keys to the home.

When Hernandez returned later to move in, she learned she had been scammed. A neighbor told Hernandez and her family the woman had actually received an eviction notice a few days before and she didn't own it at all.

"I cried for hours sitting here," Hernandez said.

The so-called seller has since disappeared. "She blocked me on Facebook; she blocked my phone number, and the phone number that I have for her has been off since the day it happened," Hernandez said.

8 On Your Side contacted the realty company, which actually owns the property. Owner Kalde confirmed the renter had recently moved out and did not own the home. "They just packed their stuff and left. As you're well aware, a tenant cannot rent to another tenant so they rented this illegally," Kalde said.

To avoid being scammed, Kalde recommends checking the website Polk Property Appraisals to find the real owner of a home. He also recommended going through an experienced and trusted real estate agent or company.

Winter Haven Police Captain Mitch Meadows confirmed investigators are looking into the incident. "There are definitely some aspects of the case that are concerning to us, and we will get to the bottom of it," Meadows said.

Meadows warned that scammers are on the prowl with the holidays approaching. "It's a sad thing. There (are) individuals out there, they're predators looking to take advantage of someone and this is certainly a bad time for that," he said.

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