By Tara Molina

NILES, Ill. (CBS) — A warning has been issued in Niles, where a woman is out thousands of dollars and a place to live.

And as CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported Tuesday, this woman is not the only one.

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Police have identified one specific house in Niles as a hotspot for rental scams affecting multiple victims. Niles police said detectives are working on multiple cases right now.

The most recent victim as Jackie Clayborn, who is coming forward because she says enough is enough.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do from here,” Clayborn said.

Clayborn stood with her sister in front of the home she thought she’d be living in by now. She had a message for the man who scammed her out of more than $2,000.

“You took what didn’t belong to you,” Clayborn said. “You took from my grandkids.”

Clayborn said she connected with who she thought was the property manager online – a man who claimed to be with Invitation Homes, the company actually listing the house on Main Street near Olcott Avenue.

“Claimed to be a property manager with Invitation Homes that had permission to lease this out on behalf of an out-of-state landlord,” Clayborn’s sister said.

Invitation Homes’ name was on the lease Clayborn signed. But now, there is a label on the front door warning, “Please be aware of fraud.”

“This house has been labeled a scam house,” Clayborn said.

Since Clayborn and her sister reported the scam last week, Invitation Homes removed has removed listing signs and put the warning on the door.

A Niles police report indicated that Clayborn told officers that on July 3, she posted an ad on Facebook Marketplace saying she was looking for a house to rent. A few weeks later, she head from someone she didn’t know through a private Facebook message, advising her to contact a specific lease agent.

She contacted the man whom she believed to be the agent, who said she could see the house on Main Street at 7:30 p.m. July 24, the police report said. The man gave Clayborn instructions to go to the front door and gave her the code to unlock the keypad and deadbolt, which allowed her to go inside and look around, the police report said.

The man then asked Clayborn to call him when she was done, the police report said. She did so, and told him she wanted to rent the house, the police report said.

Clayborn then signed a lease to rent the property and sent it back to him electronically, the police report said. The man requested a copy of Clayborn’s ID, which she texted him, and also asked for a cash deposit of $2,485, the police report said. Clayborn sent the money through Bank of America on Friday, July 30, and the man told Clayborn she could meet him to get the keys the next day, the police report said.

But then, the man texted a photo with a picture of an elderly woman lying in the hospital bed and claimed it was his mother who had fallen down the stairs – so he would not be able to make it, the police report said. They rescheduled for the next morning and Clayborn came to the house, but the man was not there, the police report said.

Clayborn stayed outside the house and asked the man where he was, and the man claimed he was on the way but was coming all the way from Missouri, the police report said.

The man then told Clayborn there was another key in the lockbox, but she would have to find someone with a sledgehammer to open the lockbox and get the key, the police report said. When the man never showed up, the woman flagged down police.

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Now, Invitation Homes still has not responded to Clayborn and her sister’s requests for information about the scammer impersonating them and their listing. But they did release this statement:

“We are always frustrated to discover that one of our homes has been used for these types of scams, which can have a devastating effect on the victims. Our goal, as always, is to offer quality homes and ensure our residents have great experiences. Our advice on fraud prevention includes watching out for eager requests for cash or wire payments with an emotional plea, abnormally high security deposits, and no required background checks. These tips and more can be found at www.invitationhomes.com/fraud-prevention. We encourage any consumer interested in renting one of our homes to contact us directly via our website at InvitationHomes.com. We also advertise on a variety of trusted home listing sites like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and others (we do not advertise on Craigslist).”

What makes this scam even more concerning is that the scammer had access to the key codes on the house – hence how Clayborn was able to go inside and look around at his invitation before signing the purported lease. The man had changed the code when Clayborn came with the intention of meeting him for the keys.

Niles police issued the following statement, saying they are working on multiple cases involving that one house on Main Street:

“Niles Detectives are actively working on multiple cases associated with this residence and multiple victims.

“Niles Detectives have submitted a subpoena request to obtain evidentiary material in these cases.
The Facebook Marketplace posting of this residence has now been removed.

“These cases are active and ongoing at this time.”

But the evidentiary material in question will not solve Clayborn’s problem. She can’t afford to wait – she has no savings, and now she has no place to live.

“And now, we’re stuck,” she said.

The Main Street house was purchased in a foreclosure sale years ago. We have not been able to get in touch with the company that owns it now.

Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau has the following advice about recognizing home rental scams:

“It is likely a scam if:

• The owner is out of town, and you cannot see the unit in person before sending money.
• There is a ‘for sale’ sign in the yard.
• The alleged owner or property manager wants money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card. No legitimate business gets paid this way.
• The rent advertised is well below market rates.
“Those looking for a rental should first conduct an internet search. Copy the photos in the post and use Google Image Search or Tineye.com to check for multiple listings. Also search using an interesting phrase in the description. And search for the address of the unit.

“If you see the unit in person, check ID and make sure you are dealing with the real property owner or manager.”

Late Tuesday, Invitation Homes sent us this additional information specific to their properties.

  • “With our automated entry system, potential new residents have the option to contact us for a code that will allow them to enter and tour one of our homes without the extra step of scheduling a real estate agent. Potential residents can explore multiple properties on their own and act quickly when they find the one that best suits their needs.”
  • For our leasing activities, we employ a couple of technological assets that help potential residents view homes without contact. First, we offer virtual tours on our web site on nearly half of our homes for lease. We also utilize Smart Home technology, including smart locks, which enable us to offer self-show tours for our future residents. This feature has been part of our playbook for the last few years and is an even bigger benefit in today’s environment. For those who still desire to interact with a leasing agent, we follow strict social distancing protocols.
  • Process – https://www.invitationhomes.com/self-tour-entry-code.
    –From our website, choose a home you are interested in
    –Click “Schedule Self Tour” on the home’s page
    –You will be asked to create an account with us and fill out a form with some basic info
    –A third party does a quick background check and then, provided the person passes the background check, they receive a code that’s good for one hour.

Invitation Homes also offered more about how to protect against scammers:

Safeguarding Against Scammers

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  1. While we’re doing our part to help educate and inform potential residents, we believe another effective way to avoid these scams is by informing individuals on how to protect themselves when house-hunting. Through our experience dealing with scammers, we’ve identified a few tips that can help protect potential victims of fraud.
  2. Scammers typically post the home on social media or online classified advertisement sites. We encourage people to verify that the home they see on these platforms also appears on Invitation Homes’ website and that the details are an exact match to those on our site. To do so, go to lease.invitationhomes.com and search for the home’s address. If it does not appear on our site as an available property, it could very well be a scam.
  3. Compare prices between the home and other comparable rentals. If the price for the home you’re looking at is unusually lower, that could be a red flag.
  4. When you’re ready to sign, always apply through Invitation Homes’ website or a licensed real estate professional or listings website. Also be sure to look for signs at the home with the name of the property owner or manager. Calling Invitation Homes to confirm the individual is a leasing agent before making a deal is always a smart step.

Lastly, look out for anyone who asks for payments via cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. This is almost always a sure sign of a scam.”

Tara Molina