DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Jessica Jones is a full-time nursing student at North Carolina Central University who is preparing to graduate in May.
“Your senior year of college, especially in the nursing program, is you’re toughest,” Jones said.
Jones is also a mother and she has worked full time at UNC Medical Center all through the pandemic. Now, she is volunteering to administer the COVID vaccine.
“It’s a lot of long hours, and of course, we’re short-staffed. It’s been a challenge,” Jones said.
Jones and her son recently got a dog and she said they were looking forward to moving into a larger home.
She recently found a home on Facebook Marketplace and reached out to the man who posted about it.
He said she could come to the property for a tour, but he was not able to meet her person due to the pandemic.
“When I went, the door was open,” Jones said. “I went in while I was on the phone with him and he was talking to me about the home.”
She decided to go ahead and put down a security deposit.
The guy then asked her for her pay stubs, W-2s, and for her to fill out an application.
“It felt like it was legit, it really did,” Jones said.
Jones then agreed to move in.
Jones said the man told her to send the down payment and the first month’s rent to individuals she hadn’t met yet, including his wife and one other person, who he said was his attorney.
Jones was hesitant to do this at first, but the guy sent her a photo ID, claiming it was his.
She ended up sending more than $2,300 in rental fees to this man, his wife, and the person he said was his attorney.
Jones then went to get the key from the lockbox at the home and the key worked at first. But a couple of days later when she and her son came back to start moving things in, the key no longer worked.
When she called the man, he answered the phone and told her he would get back to her. But he never called her back.
When she tried calling him back, she said the phone number had been disconnected.
“So right then I knew I was played and that I was, for the first time ever, a victim of fraud,” Jones said.
Jones filed reports with both Raleigh Police and the Federal Trade Commission.
Jones said the police told her the ID that the man showed her was not a real ID.
According to the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina, it is not uncommon for scammers to find a way to get access to the key lockbox at properties they know are vacant.
BBB officials say these scammers may change the locks or make copies of keys, and attempt to rent these properties online.
Jones said her bank told her she may not get her money back since sent the money through Zelle, which her bank told her is not fraud protected.
“I have a lot going on and for someone to take advantage of that, that hurts,” Jones said. “I’m sitting here just trying to save as much as I can to rent this home. For someone to take advantage of that and make me a victim, especially through a pandemic, it hurts.”
Jones said she is hoping by sharing her story, it will help stop this from happening to someone else.
“I would say trust your gut, if you feel that there’s a red flag slow down,” Jones said.
BBB officials said if you are looking to rent, one of the first things you should do is confirm the identity of the landlord. Officials say a legitimate landlord will not hesitate to show you their ID so you can take a picture and get it verified. You can also confirm if they are the real property owner by checking county registers.
BBB officials said you should also not wire money to a stranger. Also legitimate landlords should accept payment by check.
The BBB also says you should try to use the services of a reputable rental agency, which will give you an added layer of protection as you carry out your search.
BBB officials said two of the most common places where people fall victim to rental scams are Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
If you are not sure if a deal is legitimate, you can contact your local Better Business Bureau or call your local authorities.