COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- A single mother of three, desperate to find her family a home, was scammed out of nearly $1,000 when attempting to rent a home in Colonial Heights.
Victoria Newsome told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers she found an ad for an attractive and affordable home on Facebook Marketplace detailing a rental available where her children go to school.
She contacted the “landlord,” paid an application fee, and received an approval letter via email. The supposed landlord then called her at work urging her to pay the deposit right then and there.
“He called me and said there was somebody else ready to put down payment cash on it. I was at work, so I was like, ‘Please hold it for me. Honestly, I need this place,” Newsome recalled.
She needed a new place for her family by Monday so she acted quickly.
Instead of sending the landlord her bank information, he convinced her to send $900 through gift cards.
Now, Newsome admitted that hindsight is 20/20.
“I put money on the gift cards and sent him the gift cards assuming we were going to meet up on Thursday to sign the contract,” she recalled. “When I got there on Thursday, I waited about 40 minutes and he never showed up.”
Her calls and texts went unanswered. In fact, the phone number she had been using to communicate with the renter was no longer in service.
A neighbor told Newsome that the renter’s name didn’t match the actual owner of the property.
Brenda Rogers, who lives near the property in Colonial Heights, told CBS 6 she’s seen four different people with the same rental ad in hand drive there in hopes of renting the house.
“One of the pictures they showed me was like three or four years ago because I hadn’t even had solar panels on my house and it always shows my house,” Rogers explained.
Rogers said Newsome’s story broke her heart.
“I really feel sorry for her, and I hope whoever it is gets caught,” she stated. “All I want to see is justice done.”
Newsome has since started a GoFundMe fundraiser in hopes of recovering her money.
Leslie Blackwell, the director of public affairs for the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia, said reports of scams have doubled within the year.
“Scammers love to put you in that spot of making a hasty decision because it’s usually going to be wrong,” Blackwell explained.
She warned of another major red flag after reviewing Newsome’s case.
“She paid with gift cards. That is a big no-no,” Blackwell said. “Nine times out of 10 it’s going to be a scam.”
Often scammers will encourage their victims to pay using eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes and Amazon gift cards. Newsome paid in American Express gift cards.
Newsome said it was likely the ad was duplicated on other similar rental sites.
“Often what happens we see these fraudsters going out and duplicating a Zillow ad,” Blackwell explained. “They will use the same picture. They will use the description. They use exciting words, like a great location, lots of amenities, low price.”
A listing for the property on Wakefield Avenue in Colonial Heights was seen on several websites as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I should’ve just said, ‘Hey, look, if you need the money, I can meet you after work or some other time. I just can’t do it right now,’” Newsome said.
Newsome, who has triumphed after several health scares and illnesses, worked hard to earn the deposit on a home for her family. She was in tears when she described feeling taken advantage of and left for broke.
"I operated out of fear," she said.
Blackwell urged victims of scams to contact law enforcement and report the scam to their local BBB office.