(WCMH) — Rent prices are up, so it’s no surprise that many renters are looking for a good deal on rental homes. But, scammers are finding ways to trick you into sending cash for homes that aren’t even available for rent.

Michele Parks walked up to a just-renovated ranch home in her neighborhood, that she says was her dream home.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, standing on the street in front of it. “I have two grandkids who would have loved it.”

But she had no idea she was about to fall victim to the rental scam.

“I looked on Craigslist, and I found this rental house for $1,000 a month,” she said. “Nothing is $1,000 a month.”

How the scam works:

Parks texted the landlord, and within minutes the classic rental scam began luring her in.

The “landlord” gave her the address and told her to drive by and take a look around it. So Parks did that, and as soon as she pulled up to the house and saw it all freshly painted and landscaped, she knew it had been what she was waiting for.

She wasn’t bothered by the realtor sign out front, figuring the landlord either wanted to sell it or rent it.

“I assume he had it on the market for so long, that he now wanted to rent it,” she said.

The landlord said he was out of town but would send her a key after she wired a $1,000 deposit. So she sent the money, via a money transfer app, but never heard from him again. It was all a scam.

What about the listing with a full description, and beautiful interior photos? All were stolen from another home’s legitimate for sale listing. When Parks called the realtor’s name on the sign, he said the home was never for rent, and said he had no idea it had shown up as a rental listing.

The Federal Trade Commission says rental scams are all too common with scammers advertising rentals that aren’t available, are really homes for sale, or don’t even exist at all.

FTC attorney Christopher Brown says “Scammers may have hijacked the email account of the property owner on a reputable website, or they’ve changed the email address.”

How to know an ad may be fake

Brown says warning signs of a rental scam include:

You are told to wire money for the deposit or pay with gift cards, Venmo, Cash App, or Zelle.
The landlord wants a security deposit or rent before signing a lease.
The landlord says they’re out of the state or country, so they can’t take you to tour the rental right now.

Brown says always compare the price to other rentals in the area. If other homes are renting for $2,000 a month and the one listed for a deal is $1,000, something may be wrong.

“Ask yourself, is this rent a lot less than comparable rentals? That could be a red flag,” he said.

Finally, try to pay a security deposit with a credit card, so you can get your money back if the listing turns out to be a scam.

Michele Parks, who has lost her dream home and is not sure what she will do now, wants others to know about her heartbreak.

“I just want other people to be aware, so they don’t lose their money like I have,” she said.

So watch for suspicious rental listings, so you don’t waste your money.

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