(WSVN) - Finding an apartment to rent in South Florida right now is tough. One woman thought she had found the right place for her until she tried the key. Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

There may be for rent signs everywhere, but getting the keys to move in can be a challenge.

Alejandra, rental scam victim (translation): “I was looking to move…”

Alejandra, who asked we just use her first name, thought she had found the perfect place through a Facebook Marketplace post, but the small studio on Miami Beach turned into a big problem.

Alejandra: “It’s horrible. I don’t know how many people this guy has done this to.”

In June, Alejandra arranged a tour of this apartment with a man she thought was the property manager.

Alejandra: “He opened the lock box and took out the keys, and he showed me the apartment.”

Excited, she even called her parents.

Alejandra: “I videoed with my parents to show them where I was going to live. I wasn’t worried.”

Alejandra says she signed a lease and paid $2,100 in cash to cover the deposit and first month’s rent and was ready to move in, but the key she received didn’t work, and the man who gave it to her was now giving her the silent treatment.

Alejandra: “I told myself I was going to give him until Monday because it was the weekend. I started calling him, and he didn’t answer.”

Turns out, he was not the property manager, but rather, a con man cashing in.

He had this fake business posting with a picture of the apartment building listing himself as the property manager, and he wasn’t working this scam alone.

Natalia Pelaez, apartment owner: “I don’t think this is the first time they do it because they did it so easily, so cunningly. They walked into the property. They showed the property to different people.”

Natalia Pelaez owns the apartment. She had already leased it to someone when Alejandra thought she was moving in, and it turns out, Alejandra wasn’t the only victim.

Natalia Pelaez: “One of the victims was passing by and said ‘Oh, great, you are doing some repairs. I’ll be moving in tomorrow. My husband said, ‘No, we already have it rented to somebody else,’ and that’s how we found the first victim.”

Then, two more people showed up as renters, including this man with suitcases in hand.

Natalia Pelaez: “The young man, that was the last money he had saved. He had nowhere to go. He left with his two suitcases and basically stood on the street like, ‘Where do I go from here?'”

What is unique about this scam is that it was not just happening online. The scammers were more bold than that. They were right here in person showing the same apartment to three victims that we know of so far. All three have filed police reports with Miami Beach Police, who are now investigating.

Natalia Pelaez: “We feel horrible and feel responsible to some degree, but we don’t know how to help them except providing them with all the information possible, assisting with police.

Alejandra is worried because the rental con man now has her personal information.

Alejandra: “I’m scared. This man has all my information. He knows where I live because he has my address. He has my license plate number. He knows where I work.”

And now, she has to start saving again to find a new apartment.


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