(WSVN) - Police call it opportunistic and desperate. They said a woman rented a vacation home to trick people into thinking it was her family home, and she would rent it to unsuspecting victims. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

To say 2019 was a horrible year for Ernie Young would be an understatement. First, he had to overcome a major illness.

Ernie Young, Money Stolen: “I had a brain swell, which caused a lot of fever that caused short-term memory loss.”

And then while recovering from brain surgery, he lost money to someone he thought was helping him.

Ernie Young: “I mean that hurt. Fourteen-hundred dollars is a lot of money to me.”

Last summer Ernie needed to find a room to rent in Fort Lauderdale.

When he saw this advertisement on Facebook Marketplace, he thought he hit the jackpot.

Ernie Young: “It was a beautiful little place, private entrance, even a hot tub in the back!”

When he arrived to tour the home, he said he met this woman named Britnee, who said she was the owner’s daughter.

Ernie loved the property, so he gave her a $350 security deposit on Sept. 5 and two months rent the next day.

Ernie Young: “That was $1,050 for a total of $1,400 altogether.”

Ernie was ready to move in, so he tried calling Britnee to pick up the keys, but no one answered.

So he came over to the house and was surprised to see somebody else was staying there.

Ernie Young: “I knocked on the door. A man answered. I told him who I was looking for. He said, ‘Well, she don’t live here.’ This is an Airbnb that she had rented and was selling this on the internet as her own.”

Ernie wasn’t sure what to do next, so he asked 7News for help.

We found the property’s real owner, Taylor Hen.

He said Britnee was not the landlord and only rented his home for a short stint on a short-term rental site.

Tayler Hen, Property Owner: “Absolutely fraud. Absolutely fraud in the biggest way possible.”

When we took Ernie’s story to Fort Lauderdale Police, detectives knew exactly who the woman was.

They identify her as 32-year-old Britnee Laren Theiss.

Det. Jesse Gossman, Fort Lauderdale Police: “Britnee Theiss was involved in a scheme where she was placing a property up for rent. She would take a down deposit from them, and when they showed up to move into the property, they realize that she was not the owner of the property.”

Police said at least two other people fell for the bogus online ads and gave Britnee money to move into the same home.

Police are warning renters to do their homework.

Det. Jesse Gossman: “Be cognizant of what the market value is of this property you’re looking at. If it is far below market value, be wary.”

Also, check property records to find the rightful owner.

A few simple steps to help make sure you find a house, not lose your money.

Fort Lauderdale Police said if you know where Britnee Theiss is, or if you believe you may have been a victim, give them a call at 954-764-HELP.


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