I Fell for an Online Rent-to-Own Scam (so you don’t have to)

Desperate Times, Desperate People

That’s right. I fell for a rent-to-own scam. On purpose. Interest rates are up, inventory is down, and rents have actually risen in most markets. Nationwide, housing affordability is near an all-time low, yet the demand continues to grow, and people are getting desperate. Some feel the market has passed them by, some are praying for a miracle.

Queue the scammers.

In times like these, I start seeing social media posts, emails and videos offering ways to beat the system, or offers that seem too good to be true. Some are after your money, some want to sell your personal information, some want to bait you with one offer, then switch you to another. Some want all of the above. No matter their intent, they are prolific, dishonest, and people are falling for them.

Some are so obviously suspicious that it puzzles me how anyone would fall for them. I sometimes get emails or post tags from friends asking, ‘Is this legit?’

Um, no.

So, how do they spread?

They are spread by well-meaning people who don’t bother to consider the legitimacy of these posts, nor the potential impact on people who fall for them. They may not realize it, but when they share, tag or forward those posts, they are giving them credibility in the eyes of the recipient and the social media platforms they live on.

It goes like this; someone posts a too-good-to-be-true rent-to-own offer, and the reader is either in dire need themselves, or they know someone who is.

So, they tag the post or share it to the people they think could use this amazing deal, not knowing they are setting them up for a scam.

Don’t fall for this!

The Latest Sucker Bait

This is one currently being passed around and tagged. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything!

This ad is covered with red flags and clues that it’s not legitimate.

It’s a Facebook post by someone named Mariah Aden, stating, “My Grandparents are Urgently looking for a family that can occupy their Vacant Home this month before they move to their Retirement Home. The house has a garden and it is pet friendly for only $560 per month RENT TO OWN! 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom ,1510sqft . Ready for move in Further Details Visit>>https://cheaphomes3.godaddysites.com/

Note that at the bottom of the screenshot shows that 76 people have shared it.

First red flag: The urgent need of finding someone to rent the place. The sense of urgency is a classic scammer ploy when advertising something that’s too good to be true.

We have a nationwide housing crisis with far more people needing homes than there are homes available, yet these grandparents are apparently having so much difficulty finding a tenant, they are renting it cheap, and then turn to their grand daughter for help, who then turns to Facebook.

What about the fact that the house is supposedly vacant, but the grandparents must rent it out in order to move? Have they already moved out of their home? To where?

Does the fact that it’s only $560 per month cause any doubt? AND it’s rent to own? Is there ANYWHERE in America where you can get a decent home rental for $560 per month, let alone a renovated one?

Then there are some perhaps less-obvious clues that this ain’t legit.


The clues are easy to find

Other Clues

I took my cursor and hovered over Mariah Aden’s name. It is revealed to be a new Facebook account, with 10 followers. I clicked on her profile, and found that it is actually a business page under the category of grocery store. No info on the store though, and the only post ever made is this one, and she posted it on the Pleasant Hill (MO) Garage Sale group.

I took a look at Pleasant Hill homes for rent. The listings on Zillow range from $1195 to $1945 per month. Why the heck would granny rent her house out for less than half that of the lowest priced rental in town? Aren’t rent-to-own rates higher than standard rates, because some extra goes toward the buyer’s eventual down payment?

Then I did a Google search for the photo. It’s listed for rent alright, but not for $560 per month. It’s actually $2495 per month, and it’s not in Pleasant Hill Mo, it’s in Raleigh North Carolina.

Also note that at the bottom of the post, Mariah has turned off comments. No, she won’t be answering questions, and won’t let anyone call her out on her scam.

Popping up Everywhere

There are many similar posts going around, posted by different people, in different places, all with the same story; the grandparents urgently looking for someone to occupy their vacant home. In fact, if you type in that line into the Facebook search bar, you’ll find dozens of listings, all by different people, with the same language. Some are so lazy they use the same photos for different cities.

Let’s say, though, that you ignore the red flags, and want to apply for this great opportunity. Again, you can’t contact the person who posted, you must go to one of a number of websites, such as https://cheaphomes3.godaddysites.com/

What? Grandma’s house is listed on cheaphomes3?

The Rent-to-own Scam Rabbit Hole

I wanted find out, so I clicked. Did that take me to a page giving more details about Granny’s house, and maybe an application form? No, the Cheap Homes website welcomed me with “FIND AFFORDABLE HOMES IN YOUR AREA!” and “cheap government homes available for move in.”

Granny’s home is now a ‘government home’?

I clicked on ‘search here’, and it took me to another site, ‘renttoownclub.com’. There’s actually a club for rent-to-owners? I went for it. The site wanted to know how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, then took me to a page asking how much monthly income I had, another page asked about monthly debt I had, and finally, my name, email and phone number.

I created a Gmail account with a fake name (Paul), added a Google Voice number, and clicked ‘show me homes’.

Did that bring me to granny’s house? Nope. That page offered me a 7 day free trial to the Rent to Own Club, after which I’d be charged $49.50 per month. All I had to do was give them a credit/debit card number. I decided to pass, and closed that window on my computer.

They Don’t Give Up

Seconds later, I received an email from ‘Andrew’ saying, “Hi Paul, I wanted to let you know that your requested 3.5-bedroom home pictures are linked below. This is an opportunity that I wouldn’t want you to miss. It’s worth checking out even if you pass on it.”

There was a link to: View This Stunning 3.5-Bed, 3-Bath Home.

Really? It has 3.5 bedrooms? How do you pull that off? Anyway, I clicked on it, and it took me back to the rent-to-own club, offering that 7 day free trial.

As mentioned, there are countless of these scammer ads out there. I tried another one, posted by one Hannah V Fields, whose grandparents were also urgently looking for a family to occupy their vacant home so they could move into their retirement home.

Her link went to ‘viewHUDforeclosures.com’.  That site asked the same questions about the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, then took me to a page at the top of which said, ‘We’ve found 50+ homes in your area. Register now to access listings.’

The fine print at the bottom said, “By submitting this form, I provide my electronic signature in which I consent and agree that viewHUDforeclosures.com, including its affiliates, me regarding its programs and offers, which include credit repair, debt relief, health and life insurance, motor vehicle accidents as well as real estate and other home-related matters, via email, and text, telephone, and/or voicemail using automated technology to any telephone number I provide (may be recorded and may be autodialed or use prerecorded and artificial voice), even if my telephone number is currently listed on any state, federal or corporate Do Not Call list…”

I went for it, agreed, and hit ‘next’.

That took me to yet another page, this one saying that ‘We Highly Recommend Checking Your Credit Score‘, and offering to do it for free! They just needed my name, date of birth, and social security number. I couldn’t go any further, since my fake name doesn’t have a social security account. I thought that since I hadn’t gone any further, it was over. Boy, was I wrong!

I have since received hundreds of emails and robocalls from their ‘affiliates‘ with offers of credit repair, solar energy, Caribbean cruises, and the American Police Officers Alliance.

What to do 

What do you do if you see one of these posts? Report it to Facebook. Don’t comment on it. Don’t share it. Report it.

If someone you know sends it to you or tags you in it, be so kind as to let them know it’s a scam.

If you share it, know that someone you care about might fall for it, and blame you as the one who shared it with them.

Folks, although there are people who have successfully bought homes on a rent-to-own contract, those are rare. They usually require a non refundable deposit and/or higher rent that goes toward your down payment, committing to a price that may be unreasonable by the time you’re ready to make a purchase, and if you can’t or decide not to buy the property, that deposit and additional rent got you nothing.

The best thing for hopeful home buyers to do is to talk to lenders about programs, find out what it will take to buy a home. Do you need to increase income? Cut spending? Pay off debt? Talk to a Realtor. Buy when the time is right for you. If the time is never right, that’s okay, just don’t get taken by a scammer.

Of course, you can always contact me and ask, ‘Is this legit?’