HOUSTON - The Houston Association of Realtors and Crime Stoppers of Houston are issuing a glaring warning on billboards after seeing a rise in rental scams in Houston.
Victims often lose their deposits to scammers who don't even own the home that they're listing for rent.
You’ll see digital billboards around Greater Houston in English and Spanish, warning about rental scams, as many victims are losing money and ending up stranded, without a home.
"He wanted $900, plus a $60 application fee," said Kimberley Patterson Wright.
Wright says she spotted a home for rent on Zillow, but discovered the poster wasn't the owner.
"He immediately started pressuring me to send a deposit, just indicating there was a lot of competition," she said.
And landlords like Esther Nobles discover someone posting pictures of their homes on listing sites, offering to rent them out to unsuspecting renters.
"I know a lot of people are desperate for homes right now. Everyone is looking to rent or buy, and they’re out of town. They’re the most vulnerable," said property owner Esther Nobles.
"They take what is often a legitimate home, and list it for lease or for sale. They repost it on another website," explained Jennifer Wauhob with the Houston Association of Realtors.
Renters arrive to discover someone else living in the home.
"Now they’re out the $1,500, and they have nowhere to live," said Stafford Police Chief Richard Ramirez.
The Houston Association of Realtors, Crime Stoppers of Houston, and Clear Channel Outdoor are lighting up digital billboards in English and Spanish across the area through 2022.
"We want to be sure everybody sees this message and everybody understands that if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true," said Lee Vela with Clear Channel Outdoor.
They recommend before you rent a home, simply Google the address.
"If you notice it’s listed on other websites, and the information doesn’t match, maybe it’s a different price, that could be a red flag," said Wauhob.
HAR provides tips to protect yourself from rental scams at HAR.com/tips.