LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - There's a man preying on people searching for a new home in Louisville. One family lost hundreds of dollars and now the scam artist is on the hunt for more victims.
When there's trouble in the family, Robin Ringo tries to work it out. There are six family members sharing the top floor of her Dad's house right now. She's been hunting for a place of their own and thought she found it on the real estate web site Zillow.
"It had just enough bedrooms, fenced in backyard," Ringo said.
After Robin checked out the Okolona rental home in person, she responded to the contact info on Zillow to ask what she needed to do to sign the lease.
"On the phone, text messages, emails," Ringo said.
Always with a man who called himself Ramon Gomez. He told Ringo he moved to Massachusetts to take part in an HIV prevention program and needed someone responsible to live in the home while he was away. "May God bless you and your family" Gomez wrote right after asking Ringo to send him a $400 security deposit via Western Union.
"I feel stupid for trusting somebody," Ringo said with tears streaming down her cheeks. "And I thought I was doing the best thing for my kids and it wasn't."
The keys never came. Ringo's calls and texts to find out why went unanswered.
Ringo wasn't the only one who tried to rent that home from the scam artist. He sent someone else a fake code to the lock box because they said they wanted to look around inside. When the family showed up, the code didn't work so they called the legit number on the rental sign and found out it was all a con. Luckily, they hadn't sent off any money yet.
Zillow said the listing was removed as soon as they found out it was bogus and the user who posted it was blocked from putting up additional listings.
"Zillow goes to great lengths to police activity and fully inform our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves," said spokesperson Amanda Wooley.
And as it tuned out, Gomez was just getting started.
WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Eric Flack called the number Ringo was using and said he was interested in renting a home. Minutes later, he got an email from same address as the guy who scammed Ringo, with an identical back story, blessings and request for a $400 security deposit via Western Union. Only this time the email came from a different name Michael Scott. And for, a different home. This one was a house off Poplar Level Road.
"No question it's a scam," said Fred Levein. He's the real real estate agent in charge of renting the property.
"Oh he probably has a stack in front of him of properties that have gone onto Craigslist or on Realtor.com in the past week and said 'oh, these look like good ones to clone,'" Levein said.
In fact, when Flack emailed back and said he didn't like that home, he was immediately sent a listing for another.
"There is an endless supply for him to choose from," Levein said.
Louisville Metro police are now investigating with the help of detectives in Tennessee. That's where the Ringo's $400 was picked up. But officer's haven't given her a lot of hope they will be able to catch whoever did this. The anger of knowing she probably won't get back her money, burning almost as much as the fact she likely will not be the last victim.
"He is still out there," Ringo said. "He is still doing this to people."
To make sure what happened to Ringo doesn't happen to you Google any rental listing you find on the internet to see if there is a second listing.
If there's different rental agent's contact the one that's local. Watch out for aggressive sales tactics. Don't pay a deposits until after you've signed the lease and never send money for a rental agreement via Western Union.
Here is more information about how Zillow prevents, polices and detects rental scams:
After entering a rental listing on Zillow, the user must submit a phone number and click on "call my phone." The user will then receive a call or text with a 4-digit verification code. They must then enter the verification code to post the listing.
The Zillow customer support team routinely polices activity on the sites in a number of different ways and if a rental listing is found to be fraudulent, it is immediately removed from Zillow. Additionally, any user who posts a fraudulent listing is blocked from posting additional listings, if possible.
Every rental listing on Zillow has a "Beware of Rental Scams" message at the top of the page, telling users to look out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries, and directing them to a fraud and scams page, which provides valuable information about how to avoid fraudulent listings.
Anytime a user contacts a property manager about a listing, they see a message to beware of fraudulent listings.
Every contact email sent to Zillow community members with a Zillow profile includes the following warning, and link to our Internet Fraud and Scam FAQ page: Beware of scams: Zillow does not review or screen messages sent to your profile. Please use caution in replying to people you don't know personally. Learn more about potential e-mail scams.
In all of our site communications, we encourage anyone who comes across any suspicious use of the Zillow name or site activity to report it to email@example.com.
Sunday, July 27 2014 11:15 PM EDT2014-07-28 03:15:51 GMT
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