By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Only on 2: a young family is out thousands of dollars and a place to live. It’s a rental scam we’ve been investigating for weeks.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina reports this isn’t the first time these scammers have targeted a home listed by Invitation Homes, so why hasn’t anything been done to prevent it?

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What’s new this time around? The lengths these scammers are going, with no one from the company they’re impersonating getting in their way.

The “you’re invited to lease” sign in the front yard of a home in Glendale Heights on Friday, and the sign that Kelli DiBella took a picture of Thursday on Thursday appear nearly identical, except one is fake and one is real.

Unfortunately, the real one showed up on the front lawn, with stickers warning of scams posted on the front door, after Kelli and her family toured the house, signed a fake lease, and sent more than $2,000 to someone who turned out to be a scammer.

“They should just, from the start, put up those signs to protect people,” she said. “We just wanted a home for our kids, and they just took it away from us just like that.”

Once she realized they’d been duped, she found our last story on a very similar scam.

Kelli reached out to CBS 2, asking why Invitation Homes isn’t doing more to prevent this and protect families like hers, with scammers now taking their methods to a whole new level.

“If it wasn’t a legit thing, how would they get into a house? Like, how would you get into a property?” she asked.

Scammers are exploiting Invitation Homes’ option to self-tour a home, using the keypad on the door, a practice made commonplace throughout the pandemic.

The problem is, in this case, and others we’ve tracked, a scammer gets the code from Invitation Homes, using a fake identity, then shares it and the time slot with families who end up becoming their victims.

CBS 2 brought all of this to Invitation Homes, asking why the self-tour option is still available, since they know scammers are taking advantage of it, and why stickers warning of scams aren’t posted as soon as a home is listed.

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In a statement, a spokesperson said:

“Self-touring options are an increasingly used avenue for showing available homes, used by many single-family and multi-family companies. Unfortunately, there are criminals out there who are taking advantage of this technological advancement. As stated below, we encourage any prospective residents to reach out to us directly to lease a home with us. As for your question on clues to detect, again, we do not advertise on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc; rather, our listings are only on a variety of trusted home listing sites noted in my official response below. Our advice is to rent homes only through such trusted sites.”

“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,” the spokesperson stated in an email. “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).”

That’s not good enough for Kelli, who thought, after a rough month – losing two family members to COVID, and selling the home they’re in to pay for a another family member’s medical care – she thought this meant things were finally turning around.

Instead they’re out $2,500, in a scam they say should have been preventable.

“As a mom, it’s really hard when you can’t give your kids what they deserve. So this was a way for me to do that,” she said.

Invitation Homes has not yet responded to questions about the fake sign Kelli fell victim to.

Glendale Heights Police Sgt. Michael Pentecost said the department was notified of the scam on Thursday, and they are investigating. He said the victim responded to an ad on Facebook Marketplace, and had no face-to-face interaction with a person.

“As far as rental scams go, they are becoming more and more common. Most of the time, either a rental ad is hijacked by modifying the contact information and placing on another site or they just make up a rental ad. In this case we believe the ad was hijacked and then it was placed on Facebook Marketplace.

“Some tips to avoid this type of scam is to do your research. Go out to the place and make sure it is for rent. Look up the owner or company and search them on the internet. Many times when your search a company name and scam on the internet, you will find information. Try to meet the agent in person. Scammers will do everything not to meet in person. Wire money is usually a sign of any scam. Once the money is sent, it is very difficult to get back. If all else fails, you can go to your local police and ask them about it. I can only speak for the Glendale Heights Police Department but we will also speak with people and help them in any way we can. In Glendale Heights, we have a rental license program and anyone who rents a house or apartment must have a license. 

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“If all else fails, I tell people to go with their gut. If they are not 100% sure and comfortable about any type of transaction involving money, don’t do it. I also tell people, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

Tara Molina