Fake landlord gained access to south Austin rental, tricking couple out of $2K

Front door of south Austin rental used in Craigslist scam. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A Hays County couple is out $2,000 after finding a house on Craigslist in south Austin before realizing the deal was too good to be true. Police are now investigating how a person was able to pretend to be the landlord and gain the code to an electronic lockbox for the keys.

“This guy knew everything, had all the right answers, had all the right everything,” said Jason Erickson, who says he and his wife had good luck in the past finding property on Craigslist, and didn’t think this time would be any different.

“It was a three bedroom house, it looked perfect,” said Erickson. But as they found out, it was a little too perfect — a small house in a nice neighborhood advertised to rent for $950 a month. From experience with Craigslist, they said they were being extra careful.

“We crossed all our t’s dotted our i’s and thought we had everything correct,” he said. After looking at the house from the outside, the couple decided to fill out an application and sent it to the man posing as the homeowner. They say he even contacted their references.

“He called us back and said if we would like to see the inside to go back to the house and give him the serial code off of a digital lockbox,” said Erickson.

Not even a minute after handing over the serial number, the man provided the code for the keys.

Stacy and Jason Erickson look at the Craigslist ad they say scammed them. (KXAN photo)
Stacy and Jason Erickson look at the Craigslist ad they say scammed them. (KXAN photo)

“We opened it up, looked inside and decided we liked the place and we wanted it,” said Erickson. “Right then he said we were accepted and that we could go ahead and take the key and the garage door openers.”

After signing a contact, the couple put $2,000 in a bank account the next day, but strange text messages soon after told them something wasn’t right.

“He sent us a text the next morning asking basically if we would pay six months up front he would give us two months free and that threw up a red flag,” said Erickson.

The two discovered Sienna Properties was managing the home and that the homeowner, although with the same name, had never contacted them.

Sienna Properties says they contract with a company called Tenant Turner to operate the box. The company helps properties schedule home visits for potential buyers by leaving a key lock in a box with a code that changes often.

Tenant Turner told Sienna Properties a person with a fake ID, name, email address and phone number posed as a potential renter himself and filled out a pre-qualification application last Thursday. Then, he used their online system to request a code for a self-guided viewing while he was on the phone with the Erickson’s Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t until Sunday evening that Tenant Turner identified him as a fake and declined his lead. They say this isn’t the first time they’ve seen this tactic and that it’s working with law enforcement on this case and looking to enhance its anti-fraud technology.

A similar situation happened in San Marcos just last year. Police say a man was falsely listing properties on Craigslist. And in 2015, an Austin homeowner found herself on the other side, with people showing up to her home after it was listed on Craigslist when it wasn’t on the market.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself as a buyer or renter. Check the address to make sure it’s listed on the market, and yours isn’t, you can verify the property owner online through the the Central Appraisal District, and if the price is very low, it’s probably too good to be true.

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