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Local family scammed by man posing as property manager

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Lori Beth Hyman was driving through a northwest Jacksonville neighborhood last month looking for a house to rent for her family. She and her husband lived in a mobile home with their 15-year-old son in Port Charlotte. Hyman has colon cancer. She said her husband had COPD and needed oxygen. They chose Jacksonville as their new home for its access to medical care.

While driving, they spotted a “For Rent” sign outside a newly renovated single-family home. The front door was wide open. The man she thought was the property manager was holding an open house. Several other people came in and out to tour the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

“I fell in love with the space,” Hyman said, pointing to the I-TEAM inside. “Loved the whole kitchen.”

Hyman said the man who showed him the property told him his name was Manny Costello. She said he was professionally dressed and wore a name tag with his photo and the name JWB Real Estate printed on it.

He distributed rental application forms to anyone interested. Hyman filled one out and said about two weeks later that Costello contacted her by phone and arranged to meet her at the house to sign the lease and pay to rent the house. She was excited.

The lease was standard, similar to those she had signed earlier when renting. She said Costello agreed to let his family move in a week early. She used her government-issued debit card to pay $250 to move in during the last week of September, $250 for a pet deposit, and $1,800 for the first month’s rent (October) and the security deposit.

Hyman and his partner said they used the money they received from the government for disability to pay Costello a total of $2,300.

“He had one of those chip readers or a card reader that takes money from your debit card,” Hyman explained.

He also gave her a receipt, which bore a watermark, making it look legit.

Hyman used what little money he had left for the month to put down a deposit for JEA to light up the rental house. She and her family were happy. She said it was the biggest house they had ever rented and the first time they had two bathrooms.

A family that moved to Jacksonville because of their access to medical care turned to I-TEAM after falling victim to a rental scam.

Three weeks later, everything fell apart.

Hyman said a man posing as JWB Real Estate security knocked on the door and was surprised to see his family living there. He told her that the lease she had signed was not valid and that she and her family had 72 hours to vacate the property.

“I showed him the lease, but he said we had been scammed and had to leave,” Hyman said.

Hyman called the I-TEAM for assistance. We also suggested she call Jax Area Legal Aid, which has eviction lawyers and provides free legal advice.

We also called JWB Real Estate to find out how it would be possible for a scammer to offer an open house at one of their properties and provide Hyman and his family with a house key. A manager told us on the phone that the scammers had found a way to digitally access the rental units, but was not going to elaborate.

He also told us that scammers find out the names of legit real estate agents and assume similar names to try to confuse people into thinking the person they are paying is legit.

We also asked if JWB would give Hyman and his family some extra time to stay in the house as the manager admitted that Hyman had been scammed. Hyman said they have no money to rent another house until they receive their next disability benefits on Nov. 3.

The JWB manager said, “No. JWB must do what he can to gain ownership.

In a way, JWB also fell victim to this scammer, losing revenue and goodwill by having to evict scam victims. JWB did nothing legally wrong in expelling Hyman.

The eviction hearing is scheduled for Friday. Hyman is upset. Not only can’t, she says, afford to rent another house until they get their November disability benefits, they also don’t have a car to move the few things they do. ‘they own.

Hyman said they could not return to Port Charlotte either. The mobile home they were renting was damaged by Hurricane Ian. She said she tried to rent a different house from JWB since her disability income provided enough money to rent, but she had already been evicted and said she had trouble finding a rental company. property management willing to give it a second chance. .

“I just need a second chance,” she said.

If you are an owner and can help Hyman and his family, contact jwaugh@wjxt.com.

You should know that rental scams are very common in our region. Tom Stephens, president of the Better Business Bureau’s northeast Florida office, said renters need to be vigilant and do their homework before giving anyone money. He said this scam was smart and unique. The only red flag he noticed was that the rental agreement signed by Hyman and his family was not printed on JWB letterhead.

“Most agencies will put their name and contact details on a rental agreement,” he said.

If you’re meeting a property agent or manager in person and not at their office, Stephens said you should always get the business address and confirm it exists. You can also check the address online.

“You can go to the USPS ZIP Code Lookup website and enter an address and it will tell you whether or not it’s a legitimate address,” Stephens explained.

It also recommends that you “Google” that person’s name as well. If there’s something negative, Google will usually pick it up, he said.

Keep in mind that real estate agents must also be licensed by the state. You can look up their license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations.

Stephens said most rental scams involve someone who supposedly lives out of the country, finds an excuse why they can’t meet you in person, won’t let you into the house until that you will not have paid any fees or if she wishes. wire you the money to pay the rent. He said these are red flags that you are being scammed.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All Rights Reserved.

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