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Renters beware: 3 local woman fall victim to housing scam

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(WJBK) -

Three local women have fallen victim to a renting scam.

The Better Business Bureau says to always do your homework when looking to rent a property. Also a good idea is to find out who actually owns the property by going to the city, the county or going online. Make sure you ask the renter for some references and talk to the neighbors. Also, always walk through the property to know what you're getting yourself into.  

VIDEO: Click on the video player above to hear the three women's stories in a report from Fox 2's Amy Lange, or read the story below
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"It's, like, not livable at all here."

"I got scammed and it was just B.S."

"I just really wanted to be in a house for the holidays to enjoy it or whatever, and now I just don't have a place to go."

Three women; three different scenarios they call scams.

Tamika Johnson says she found this Cloverlawn home on Craigslist, went to see it, liked it, and paid $675 for a deposit and application fee. But, she says, when it came time to move in the house wasn't what she agreed to.

"There was no side door. The hot water wasn't working and it was just filthy. I asked the man for my money back, and he just kept saying it was in an escrow account," Johnson explains.

Next door on Cloverlawn - this disaster: no furnace, missing pipes, a kitchen without a sink or stove. The ceiling in the back bedroom, falling down.

"Very stressful. I'm tired, stressed out. I don't know what to do. I don't know how I'm going to get money back," says Ciera Parks.

She paid $1,500 to rent this dump. She made the fatal mistake of signing a lease without seeing it first. It's in foreclosure proceedings now and she can't even contact the company listed. We tried, but here's the address on the paperwork - a burned out building on Gratiot with no roof.

You can see the bassinets - Parks is four months pregnant and has two other children, ages fives and eight. She moved in here so they all had a home but it's clear nobody can live here, can they?

"No. They can't. Not no one. I wouldn't ask anyone to move in this house," she says.

And then there's 20-year-old Ashleigh Auten, also pregnant and a single mom. She thought she found a perfect place on Zillow. It really is for rent but not by the people she paid. Someone created a fake listing, a guy claiming to be Patrick Williams and claiming he was with the military, and scammed Auten out of $700, which she wired through Western Union to Pennsylvania. And then he wanted more.

"And I'm like, 'No. I'm not sending you any more money,'" Auten says.

The guy claiming to be Patrick Williams has his number posted on several fake Zillow listings, so many scams and much money lost by people who can't afford it. Melanie Dusquesnel with the Better Business Bureau says renters beware.

"You need to take your time and do your homework," she says. "It's a difference between having your money do what you want it to do versus having your money do for somebody else what they want it to do."

Auten made a police report, which is exactly what authorities say you should do. Johnson went to police as well. Fox 2 was able to contact the man who took Johnson's deposit. He claims the property was in perfect shape and she just decided she didn't like it. He also admitted the home is in foreclosure proceedings but said his company is making payments. He also said he will refund her money.

Fox 2's Amy Lange asks him on the phone, "Are you going to return that deposit?"

He responds, "Absolutely. As soon as she give me a forwarding address we can return it today."

Johnson says she will believe it when she sees it, but all of these women want to warn others.

"Here it is, Christmas time, and I have my five year old and I'm pregnant and I'm dealing with all this. Now I don't have a house and I thought that I was going to and got my hopes up, got my five year old's hopes up, and now I'm just out of everything," Auten says.

Find out who actually owns the property by going to the city, the county or going online. Make sure you ask for some references. Talk to the neighbors, any number of things you can do to make sure you're getting a transaction that is legitimate, and always walk through the property to know what you're getting yourself into.

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