PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — A Bellevue man said he was scammed while trying to rent a home in Peoria Heights.
“We found this place on Zillow,” said Billy Bolen.
Bolen and his wife were hoping to rent this home off of Sciota Avenue in Peoria Heights.
“Next thing you know, someone started messaging my wife and was talking to her about the house and everything,” said Bolen.
The Bolen’s started messaging with a woman they believed owned the house. Zillow records show it was listed for rent in early July.
“We kept going back and forth over text and everything. I tried to call them once and never got an answer,” said Bolen.
Peoria County Sheriff’s Department Operations Captain Chris Watkins said that is a red flag.
“They never want to meet you in person, they don’t want to show the apartment in person, they just want you to put the deposit money down,” said Watkins.
Bolen said he sent the so-called landlord $1,500. After he sent the money, he said that person stopped responding.
WMBD tried calling the number that Bolen had been messaging. No one picked up, but a reporter left a message. Bolen believes it is a fake number used to scam others.
“I’m totally embarrassed by it, but at the same time, people need to know that there are people doing this and the way that they’re doing it,” said Bolen.
Watkins said rental scams are a growing issue nationally, with some incidents like this one happening locally. He said scammers use two tactics: hijacking ads or phantom rentals.
In the hijacking ads method, scammers find real properties for rent and replace the contact information with their own. With the phantom rentals method, they make up a fake listing and try to lure people in. But Watkins said it is avoidable.
“The main thing is, be a hard target. Make sure you’re looking at this property in person, if something just doesn’t feel right, have someone else look at this also,” said Watkins.
Later, the alleged landlord responded to the WMBD reporter. They exchanged a few messages, but that person would not be forthcoming about who they are or if they owned the property on Sciota Avenue.
Watkins said if you feel like you are being scammed while trying to rent, file a report with the Sheriff’s Department or Police.