Apartment hunting on the Central Coast can be a nightmare with housing being so scarce.
“I had to apply so fast for everything, it was really hard,” said Hailey Hall, who studies at Cal Poly.
Finding a place to rent is quite the challenge.
“I actually just moved down for the spring semester, so I had to do a lease take over because I didn’t have that many options, so I just took whatever they had at the time,” explained Yvonne Daskaloff, who is a student at Cuesta College.
Scammers feed off of that desperate need to move to the Central Coast.
“One of my friends who has been looking for housing, she messaged me and said hey isn’t this your house,” explained Maegann Jackson, whose home was listed for rent without her consent. “It was all pictures from when I first saw on the MLS, and I’ve owned it for three years.”
Jackson was shocked to find out that her Templeton home had been listed for rent online on Craigslist. The ad was posted on Jan. 29, 2022.
“They wanted $50 application fee for each adult that was going to live in the home,” said Jackson.
An ad almost too good to be true that was only up for about 12 hours.
“They wanted $1,350 for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, which is pretty low for a three-bedroom and three bathrooms on five acres […] you can have livestock,” said Jackson.
Jackson's friend communicated with the person behind the ad via text. When she asked if it was a scam because there seemed to be people living there, the person responded “please this is not a scam, they will be moving out soon.”
“More like a feeling of violation because people were driving by my house, I had people leave messages or like notes written," added Jackson.
Jackson said she reported the fraud with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office and reached out to Craigslist as well. The ad is down, but she is sharing her story on social media, so this does not happen to others.
“I just want people to be aware and don’t give an application fee without actually seeing and meeting the house first,” said Jackson.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department is asking community members to be very careful when looking for housing across the Central Coast because this type of fraud is one that happens fairly often and many times victims don’t report it.
Plus, detectives said these are difficult crimes to investigate.
“It becomes challenging because many times these scammers aren’t necessarily in the U.S.," explained Sgt. Aaron Schafer with the San Luis Obispo Police Department.
Sgt. Schafer said it is important to be on the lookout and verify online if the address even exists.
“Use credible sources, credible websites meaning VRBO those that have high-security levels where they are actually verifying the information and have security measures in place,” recommended Sgt. Schafer. “Also our local property management companies and actually talking to a physical person.”
A huge red flag is the form of payment requested.
“Wire transfers either Western Union or give you some specific directions that is outside the norm than just using a credit card or some other form of payment,” said Sgt. Schafer. “We've seen it as crazy as people actually purchasing gift cards to pay for places.”
Authorities said it is crucial to report incidents and to also have all paperwork handy that can help back up a fraud case.
Victims should also inform their banks about the fraud.