Police want tourists and renters to be careful of real estate scams involving vacation rentals and other properties.
Treasure Island and Gulfport have had reports of alleged real estate scams aimed at bilking visitors and renters out of money. The fraud schemes are also on the radar of the St. Petersburg Police Department, according to SPPD’s public information officer Yolanda Fernandez.
The scams usually involve ads for vacation properties and other rentals on social media platforms such as Craigslist, Fernandez said.
“It does happen – especially with the use of cash apps,” Fernandez said, referring to the peril of using PayPal or other cash payment platforms.
Gulfport had its latest reported on Dec. 28.
Gulfport police officers responded to a residence on 58th Street South near Boca Ciega High School. The property is owned by Zillow; security officers found individuals inside the home.
“It was determined that a fraudulent lease agreement had been signed by multiple victims and over the past two months; $5,394.00 has been stolen between security deposits and monthly rent paid by the victims,” according to the Gulfport Police Department’s weekly report.
In Treasure Island, police reported an alleged real estate fraud incident on Nov. 21 involving an advertisement on Craigslist for a rental property near the beach.
“The price was a total of $860, which would be given to a subject through multiple Zelle transactions,” Treasure Island Police Department Lieutenant Dan Savarese said.
Savarese said a potential renter contacted local police when the rented grew suspicious of the deal. Police have not made any arrests in that case.
Fernandez said scam artists are often not local, and remain hidden online. Some of those scammers live in other states; others live outside the country – making them even harder to track.
“Many times, they will say ‘I live in Texas but I own this house in Florida’,” Fernandez said. “From an investigative standpoint, it’s very difficult to follow the money.”
She said tourists, renters, and other consumers should be skeptical of transactions where purported landlords and/or property owners push cash apps.
Fernandez said prospective renters can look up properties and who owns them to see if that information meshes with advertisements. She said safe, face-to-face meetings with property and leasing managers and/or property owners can also help avoid scams.
The Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s website features ownership information on residential and commercial properties.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also warns that some scammers will make and provide keys to renters they want to dupe. The FTC warns requests for any type of wire transfers or use of cash apps are suspect, because victims cannot recoup those funds after transmission.
Gulfport police have also seen legal scams where fraudsters try to seek payments via gift cards. That includes a recent alleged fraud where the purported scam artist pressured a local resident to rectify a bogus legal situation via gift cards payments.
Police say people should consider any legal, real estate, or other deal where a party seeks gift cards as payments “very suspicious.”