ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered a new way overseas scammers are trying to steal cash and personal information in Georgia.
A Channel 2 producer searching through rental home listings found a home with a contact person who had no
connection to the property and claimed to represent the real estate agent.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer stepped in and emailed the man, who repeatedly called from an Internet phone number, and said there was no on available to show the house in person.
"Yeah, I understand you want to see it and everything. The interior is OK. I don't have anyone to meet you. The only lady who has been doing this, she is hospitalized right now," the caller said.
Fleischer found another woman who said she spoke to the same man while trying to rent a home in Tucker.
"’It was beautiful,’ they said and I was like, 'I can't believe this,'" she told Flesicher. "I was definitely interested, I thought it was a steal.”
Both homes were originally listed several months ago by My Home Spot real estate agent Tricia Pazol. Someone claiming to be Pazol posted a fake advertisement and emailed potential renters back. The phony owner even created a new email address using Pazol’s name.
When Fleischer searched the phone number provided in the phony listing on Google, it also linked to listings in Kansas City, Mo. and Salem, Ore., with two different real estate agent’s names.
Fleischer also found those homes had already been rented.
"It's crazy. I live here. I've been here since June 1. It's definitely not available," said April Jarvis, who currently rents one of the homes listed in the fake advertisement.
Jarvis' rent is nearly double the $750 in the fake listing.
"These homes are usually being offered at below market value by these scammers," FBI Agent Steve Emmett said.
Emmett told Fleischer that a low rent should be a warning. In the past, scammers would stick to classified sties like Craigslist but now they are hitting more reputable sites like Zillow and Trulia, Emmett said.
"Those advertisements can be duplicated by scammers abroad and those individuals need to be aware of that," Emmett said.
"I filled out the application and they wanted me to Western Union them the money and that is when I knew something wasn't right," said the woman interested in the Tucker home. "But he didn't sound like he even graduated high school."
The man on the phone claimed to be an attorney representing Tricia Pazol, and handling her calls.
"But he didn't sound like he even graduated high school," the applicant told Fleischer, "so I called Ms. Pazol and I put her on three-way, so she could hear the gentleman talking. He said he worked for her and she said, 'Sir, I do not know you,' and she just went off on him,” the woman said.
Fleischer confronted the man on the phone about the alleged scheme.
He replied, "I'm not trying to rip you off or something. I don't want this to look and seem as if I am just begging you to make a payment."
Fleischer told the man on the phone that she had spoken with the real Tricia Pazol.
"She says this is a scam and that you relisted her property at half the price with your contact information. Is that true?" Fleischer asked.
"I don't think that is true. I'm very sorry to tell you that your investigations are not true," the man said. Then he disconnected the call.
"These scammers are in a sovereign foreign country and that's almost a national pastime for them. The FBI has no authority in those countries," said Emmett.
Emmett said the best thing the FBI can do is educate real estate agents and renters to keep them from becoming victims.
Pazol told Fleischer that she has already contacted Trulia and Zillow to get the fake ads taken down.
The FBI recommends meeting in person to sign paperwork or at least visiting an office before mailing anything. The FBI was already familiar with this scheme, but told Fleischer this is the first time it's been seen here in Atlanta.