LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - It's hard for many to find affordable rental housing in the Lake Area - which makes those locating here from out of town perhaps even more vulnerable.
Realtor Betsy Watkins says in the last couple of weeks three people sent deposit money to a scammer on Craigslist to rent a house on Hackberry Street in Lake Charles. Problem is, the house is for sale, not for rent.
Victims have lost between $700 and $1,200.
One time, Watkins was showing the house to a prospective buyer when a would-be renter showed up.
"He was there to pick up keys. He unfortunately bought into the whole program of , 'Send me this and I'll send you the keys.' And he had sent about $750 to whoever this gentleman is who doesn't own the property," she said.
Sadly, Watkins says despite warnings on Craigslist, and posts being removed, people are still being scammed.
"They'll take it down. The problem is every time we get one taken down two or three more pop up," said Watkins.
She says the scammers steal real estate pictures to make the fake ads.
"They steal all of our description, and then our pictures to make their own ad," she said.
She says it's crucial for consumers to watch for red flags.
"Never put a deposit on something that you haven't gone in. All renters should know that you can go in and check a property before you put a deposit down," said Watkins.
If the rent appears to be a bargain, that's another red flag. Find out the rent for neighboring houses. Depending on condition and area, many rentals are $1,000 or above, said Watkins.
"If it's $200 or below what something would normally rent for, then it's a scam," she said.
Above all, don't send a deposit on a house you haven't seen in person.
"If you can't open the door and walk in, walk on the floors, see that it's a real house, nobody else lives there, and that they have the ability to unlock the house and give you the key, please don't give them money," said Watkins.
She says right now it's cheaper to buy a house than rent. Watkins says reaching out to a real estate professional in person can save renters from getting scammed.
For more information on avoiding such scams, click here.