LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Louisville’s real estate market is hot right now, but one local realtor says that means twice as many renters with fewer options. So, some renters are turning to Facebook and Craigslist, opening themselves up to scams.
A single mother whose house burned down last year, Mary Fowler, has been looking to rent for a while. She thought she found the perfect spot on Facebook Marketplace: a home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and all utilities included for just $873 a month.
“The idea of a home that I can afford that is in a good neighborhood and that, you know, I can feel like my kids are safe in, that was a blessing,” Mary Fowler said. “I got all excited and hopeful.”
As Fowler told WAVE 3 News, it seemed too good to be true. It was.
”Never a phone call, never a text, no personal communication whatsoever,” Mary said. “I would get the same emails a couple of times.”
For four days, Fowler said she went back and forth with a man claiming to be Anthony G. Bell, who told her he moved to Colorado for his wife battling leukemia. He asked Fowler for more than $1,000 upfront with a contract to rent the house.
”It made it so real, and then when you question it, they started to dig on your personal [information],” Amy Law, who renovates homes for a living, explained.
A friend of Fowler’s, Law confirmed her suspicions after Fowler saw the Facebook Marketplace house listed on Zillow for sale, not for rent.
When questioned, Bell claimed the Realtor on the real estate listing online was scamming him along with the tenants, warning Fowler not to call the number on the “For sale” sign in the house’s yard.
Law called the agent on the listing, Bob Sokoler, who said he is no stranger to scams.
”They always have a really unique back story,” Sokoler said. “They’re fighting with the realtor or that they didn’t like the way things were going so they decided to rent it out on their own. Their cell phone is broken. They moved out of town.”
He said scammers lift pictures off of legitimate home listings and repost them on Facebook or Craigslist for rent with no intention of ever putting a key in a person’s hand.
”We’ve got a serious problem not only in Louisville but around the rest of the country,” Sokoler said.
The Realtor has gotten several calls about the scammer claiming to be Anthony G. Bell. When WAVE 3 News reached out to him, the same emails sent to Fowler were forwarded. Then, after saying his phone was broken, Bell called WAVE 3 News, who he also told the story of his realtor, Sokoler, scamming him and that he was the owner of the home listed on Facebook Marketplace.
He claimed he could prove he was Anthony G. Bell, that he was from Louisville, and living in Colorado for the time being. When asked what neighborhood in Louisville he is from, he did not give a straight answer and mispronounced the address of the home he posted on Facebook.
He urged WAVE 3 News not to contact him again. When WAVE 3 News called him back, he didn’t answer.
Another email to Bell was responded to with a generic message and a questionable-looking passport with his “identification.”
“My client, the seller, says ‘That’s not me, that’s not my brother, that’s nobody in my family,’ and yet they were passing that off as legitimate information, which could easily fool anybody who gets it,” Sokoler said.
Now, Fowler is back on her housing hunt and thankful she never handed “Anthony G. Bell” any money. Now she hopes no one else does, either.
”I don’t want somebody to lose out on that, and have people take advantage of them,” she said.
For Sokoler’s guide on how to spot a rental scam, click here.