Better Call Behnken

Davis Islands homeowners discover houses rented by scammers

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) Leslie Thornton, a new mom, was stunned when her front door opened and a family she had never met before walked in with luggage.

"I was scared," Thronton said. "My husband had just left for a run and the door wasn't locked yet. They were here for a vacation from Puerto Rico."

The family claimed they had paid hundreds of dollars a night to rent the home, and they even had a rental agreement with Thornton's husband's name on it. They said they found the listing for a vacation rental on Craigslist.

The family said they had wired the money and were told the door would be open when they arrived, so they walked right in. Thornton said the family was adamant and came back several times.

"I felt sorry for them," she said. "They had a sad story, but it really concerned me, too."

Rental scams like this are on the rise. A national group called Apartment List recently released data that shows 43 percent of renters report finding a fake listing and 6.4 percent lost money. 

In the Tampa metro area, the data shows 22 percent of renters found a fake listing and 6.5 percent lost money. 

This was not an isolated case. This happened to Thornton two other times. And she's found two other homes in her neighborhood listed for rent by scammers.

"One neighbor said this happened to him before so this must work for the scammers," Thornton said. "they must be making money."

She reported the scam to the FBI and to Tampa Police but says she doesn't feel much is being done to stop the crooks. So Thornton decided she's Better Call Behnken to spread the word and help take power away from the criminals.

Tune in tonight at 5 p.m. to see Investigative Reporter Shannon Behnken's full report. 




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