9 Investigates: Central Florida rental scams

Homeowner Meradith McGee can?€™t seem to shake a rental scam that uses online advertisements to target downtown Orlando properties.

Homeowner Meradith McGee can’t seem to shake a rental scam that uses online advertisements to target downtown Orlando properties.

McGee has warned renters that her property isn’t available for rent.

"To help people not get scammed, I put a sign in the window," she said. "People started calling us and saying, 'Is this house really for rent for $850 a month?' And we’re like, 'No; it’s for sale.'"

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McGee’s home is among several downtown houses and apartments that were falsely advertised as rental properties.

"They stole my photos, they took my text, my entire description of the house and just made a new ad saying it’s for rent," McGee said.

Channel 9 reporter Steve Barrett discovered a Craigslist listing advertising a unit at the 55 West Apartments available for rent for $800 per month.

The advertisement included a link to a video showing a well-decorated apartment; the problem: The video features a vacation rental in Canada.

Channel 9 showed the video to real estate agent Lee Goldberg, of The GCI Guys. He wasn't surprised.

"I can easily go online and take some pictures and put up a fake posting," Goldberg said. "And I can create -- on the phone -- a sense of urgency and say, 'Look, I’ve got six people who want it. You want it right now, wire $1,000 into my bank account.'"

Channel 9 emailed the person who posted the bogus video. That person said he or she doesn't live in town and sought personal information, bank statements and a wired deposit.

Legitimate landlords don’t operate that way, Goldberg said.

"You should never give a deposit sight unseen. Do not give out your personal information sight unseen," he said. "Now, if you’re doing it through a verified Realtor, then you know you’re going to be OK."

Monthly rent that is lower than comparable properties is a telltale sign of a scam, Goldberg said.

"Use logic here," he said. "If it’s too good to be true, trust me, it is too good to be true."

McGee said she doesn't want to see renters get scammed.

"I’m involved in their scam, and I’m not a willing participant," she said. "My house is being used as bait, and I don’t want people to lose their hard-earned money."