Families pay thousands to rent homes only to learn they've been duped

OAK PARK (WXYZ) - Along a tree lined street in Oak Park, you'll find 23511 Geneva. For Kirsten Flatley, it was perfect.  The mother of three just found out she has less than a week to move from her rental here in New Hudson, and the home in Oak Park was right in her price range.

Kirsten found the ad for the home on the popular website Zillow and contacted a man who said he was the owner. He said he'd love to shower the rental home, but there was a problem.  

"He was in Selfridge in the Army, at the army barracks there," Flatley said she was told.

The owner said he didn't have time to show Kirsten the house, so she went to see it on her own.  Peering through the glass, she liked what she saw and wired the money the next day.  

After sending $1,000 through the transfer service Money Gram, Kirsten received this rental agreement and waited for the keys.  They never came. She got a text message instead.

"He said he spoke to his lawyer and they couldn't let anyone move into the house for $1,000," Flatley said.

"They needed to up the price.  And I needed to send more money."

Kirsten started to fear that she'd been taken.  Indeed, she had. 7 Action News reached the real owner of the property today by phone.  He said he knew nothing about the ad, or the man Kirsten spoke to. 

"They're taking honest people's money, and they're taking it form kids whose parents work very hard for that money," Flatley said.

In Livonia, it's a very similar story for Nicole Petroff. She just moved back from Chicago, looking for a home near her parents. She found a nice one on the website Zillow and when she contacted its supposed owner, she heard another creative excuse for why he couldn't show it to her in person.

"He had to leave on a mission to serve the Lord in Texas for there years.  His family was very into religion, and doing mission work," Petroff said.

She wired $2,100 to the man…then got the same rental agreement as Kirsten.  She came to find out it wasn't the paper it was printed on. The home isn't for rent at all.  

When Nicole called Livonia police to file a report, she was told you can't do it here. That's because the money she transferred went to an account in Texas.

Realtors tells 7 Action News that prospective renters should never put cash down when renting a property.  They also encourage you to reach out to your local city assessor's office to make sure the home you're interested in renting is really owned by who you're dealing with.

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