Rental house turns out to be a scam

Woman pays $500, moves belongings, but can't live there

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

After Jennifer Bournef found a cute little house for rent in Vancouver on Craigslist, she packed up a U-Haul with all her belongings and moved from Springfield, Ore. with her three kids.

Bournef, 32, wired rent money and the security deposit -- totaling $800 -- to a man claiming to be the property owner and a missionary living in Nigeria. The name the man gave, Santiago Abieras, appears in Clark County property records.

"I didn't stop to think there was anything wrong with that," Bournef said.

When Bournef arrived at the house at 8515 Mount Olympus Ave. about a week ago, she couldn't find a house key. She called the man she thought was the owner, and he told her it would be OK if they broke into the home. The keys, he said, were stuck in customs.

Inside, she found the place filthy, infested with mold, with holes in the bathroom walls and grass in the front and backyard that came up to her hips. It was no place to house her children.

During the week, while she cleaned, mowed and painted the walls, the man claiming to be the property owner sent her harassing emails, text messages and phone calls. He wanted an additional $500 and told her to sell belongings to come up with the money.

Bournef started to suspect this was a scam. She called real estate agents who listed the house and tried to get hold of the home's mortgage company to learn more about the property. When she called the police, they said they couldn't help her and that it was a civil issue.

Thursday night, a woman showed up at the house who claimed she had just purchased the property and was taking measurements for renovation.

"She was highly irate," Bournef said.

Her family has to move out by Saturday night. They plan to place their belongings in storage and live in a tent for a while until they can find a new home.

Cheryl Henry, who's lived across the street from the house for five years, said her 25-year-old son replied to the ad on Craigslist. They knew something was fishy and quit talking with the man claiming to be the homeowner. He wanted pictures of my son, Henry said.

The Craigslist ad has been flagged for removal from the site.

Craigslist offers tips to renters on how to avoid the kind of scam Jennifer Bournef fell for: Deal with local renters; never wire money; always see the interior of a house before you rent; and never give out financial information.

Wire scam complaints can be filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission.