Owners of a condominium in Century Village East came close to finding an uninvited and unwelcome resident living in their unit, and it was all the result of an elaborate scam.
Detectives from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office are currently investigating how a CVE unit that was listed for sale suddenly became the subject of an illegal rental rip-off.
According to those familiar with the case, it started when the owners of a unit in Westbury listed their condo for sale. The CVE Reporter is not printing the specific unit, nor the names of the owners to preserve their privacy. Like all real estate sales, the publicly available sales listing included the address, details of the unit, and sale price. That was all the information needed for the scammers to launch their scheme.
While the real owners ran their listing to sell the unit, someone else took the same information and created a phony listing to rent the unit. The fake rental listing was posted online with the headline: “Move-in ready condo for rent!!!!”
An unsuspecting tenant answered the rental ad listing, and thought she was going to be renting the Century Village East condo. The scammers prepared a forged “Certificate of Ownership” complete with the sale price listed by the owners, and sent the would-be tenant a fake lease with the condo address requiring her to pay the $1,200 security deposit and the $1,000 monthly rent in advance using an online Zelle money transfer account.
The scam was uncovered when the would-be tenant contacted officials in Century Village East for information on what was required to obtain a Village ID, and various other necessary items. It was only then that all the pieces fell into place, and the owners were notified that someone had listed their condo for rent.
“I thought it was horrible,” the owner told the CVE Reporter. “I never thought this could happen. It is good for anyone to know about this so there are no other victims in the Village.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.
“Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site,” according to the FTC. “Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.”
Experts warn the signs of a scam may include requiring funds be wire transferred. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back. Another sign is if they want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.
Fortunately for the condo owners, the scam was uncovered before the surprise tenant arrived at the front door, and they were not financially impacted.But experts warn if you are listing your condo for sale, you should routinely search your address online to ensure it is not being used elsewhere in a phony listing.