SOUTH HOUSTON, Texas (FOX 26) - A South Houston woman fell victim to a scam that has become more common among renters, a story that she shared exclusively with FOX 26 News.
Jessica San Miguel said she thought she had found her dream fixer-upper home. She read the rental information on Craigslist.
“It said a three bedroom for $500 a month, 3 bedroom, two bath, and it had a phone number,” said San Miguel. “And I was like let me call it.”
On the other end of the line? A Leann Smith answered the phone. She met up, signed a lease, paid $700 by money order and moved in this past month.
“We were sleeping in one room when we first got here, because the rest of the house stunk,” said San Miguel. “But we were happy because it was going to be our house.”
But it was a house that was crumbling and slick with mold. The scammer told her that the cost of any repairs she paid for on her own would be applied toward her rent, which prompted San Miguel to spend hundreds of dollars to fix it up.
Then on Sept. 29, an ominous knock at her door. A real estate agent was conducting an occupancy check and informed her that the house was actually foreclosed and belonged to U.S. Bank. HCAD records confirm that the property does belong to U.S. Bank.
San Miguel was a victim of fraud and was being kicked out. Leann Smith stopped answering her phone.
“They didn’t do it to me, they did it to the kids,” said San Miguel. “Because I told those people I have kids and I have to have a roof over their heads.”
San Miguel said there were a couple of things that helped her believe the story behind the scam:
- There were workers making repairs as promised when she showed up
- The scammer had a key to the house
She didn't put it together then -- but there was a broken window in the back of the house. Real estate experts say scammers feast on foreclosures and often use them to break in to set up their scheme.
“It often times takes the banks or lenders a long time before they actually repossess the property and secure it, so you can find an abandoned home somewhere that's on a posted list and break in, change the locks and call it your own for a while and probably scam several people before the authorities are notified,” said Sam Ferreri, the president of RE/MAX Top Realty.
Jessica and her family have no money and no home.
“All I have to do is pack and see what door opens,” said San Miguel.