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Scammed for the Holidays: So-Called Grinch Tricks Mother Out of $4K By Posing as Homeowner

A single mom in St. Louis was duped into believing that this Christmas she and her children would move into their dream home.

However, reportedly a scammer posing as the owner of the property nabbed her money and left her with nothing — not even a place to stay for the holidays.

The woman, whose name is listed as Mia Daugherty on a GoFundMe page, reportedly saved for months to rent a new home for her family and searched online for the perfect match. On Sunday, Nov. 6, the mother of a new baby and 7-year-old finally settled on one house in Florissant that she found on the popular and reputable real estate site Zillow.

“I thought it was a beautiful home,” she said. “I thought it was really nice house.”

As customary on the app, she sent a message to a person she believed was the owner, according to CBS 4.

She was excited when on the next day a person responded with good news about not only the availability of the house but specifying that she was a good fit as a potential renter. The contact gave the mom, via the app, a code to unlock the door, which allowed her to tour the property before deciding on it.

She took her daughter with her to check out the house, and after seeing the absolute glee on her baby girl’s face, she decided this was the home for them.

“I filled out an application for the home, he sent an approval letter and a receipt for my security deposit,” she wrote on the GoFundMe profile.

“The ‘owner’ sent me a detailed lease and I went on to pay him the rent for the month,” Daugherty explained. “All of the documents were sent to my email and signed by the ‘owner’ and myself.”

After signing the lease and paying the fees, she gave the person thousands of dollars to seal the deal.

“Total, with everything, I am out about $3,500, maybe $4,000,” Daugherty said.

She wanted the home to be suitable to live in and said, “with my limited funds, I had the carpet cleaned and the house professionally cleaned before we moved in.”

However, her dreams suddenly shattered a day after she moved in. She was handed a letter of eviction by a strange woman. She told the family they had to leave and had no right to be in the house.

“She’s like, ‘I don’t know how you got in this house, you have to leave now, you have to leave by Friday.’ My stomach just turned in knots, I could have collapsed, I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth,” the mother said.

The woman worked for real estate rental company Progress Residential. She reportedly yelled at the mother for being on the property. It was at that moment a “devastated” Daugherty said she was “heartbroken” when she realized she had been scammed. Much more, her daughter’s dream of having her own bedroom was dashed.

“I couldn’t wait to fill up the fridge and help my daughter decorate her room,” she said.

Daugherty said she called 911 and reported that she had been scammed.

The officer arrived at the home and agreed that it seemed like something wasn’t right, and even questioned the validity of the company and the woman that came to issue the “Notice to Surrender.” It listed dates that she had not publicly shared, according to Daugherty.

“One date was the current date, 11/15,” she wrote. “The other date on the document was my actual move-in date, which was 11/11. I didn’t move in until 11/14 due to me having the house and carpet cleaned on 11/10 and 11/11.”

The only person who knew my move-in date was the scammer, which is why I know this was internal,” she added.

According to the GoFundMe post, Progress Residential is the legal owner of the house but “will not assist with recovering any of the funds.”

Progress Residential’s national security manager further told her the company has a “track record and history of their former and current employees creating fraudulent activity across the country” but could not help the mother.

A company representative told CBS 4 that while Progress Residential doesn’t “comment on specific cases, we make every effort to support these victims of rental fraud by providing an opportunity to directly work with Progress staff to apply for and rent the home they want.”

The mother said the stress of this ordeal has impacted her mentally and physically.

“This has been a nightmare… Especially during the holiday season. I never thought as a single mother, I would be in a situation like this with my two young children,” she said. “I had to take an unpaid leave from work to process this setback to mentally and physically prepare myself to push forward.”

The company has a 1.08 out of 5 Better Business Bureau rating.

As some 450 rental scams have been reported this year (close to the 500 reports for 2021), representatives from the BBB say scammers have become more sophisticated in their tactics.

“They are keeping up with the technology and what they can get by with,” said Sarah Wetzel of the BBB. “They look so legitimate, they look so real and that’s what is so scary.”

Scammers seek out the vulnerable and the uninformed.

Last November, June Walker had been paying $550 a month for three years to purchase her $15,000 home.

The 65-year-old grandmother used all of her savings and her disability check to secure what she thought would be her permanent home. However, she was a victim of a rent-to-buy scam.

Walker said she was participating in what was called a “land contract” with an option to buy a lease that was tailored specifically to fit her needs according to her income. But this was a shortcut that left her open to someone who intentionally targeted seniors, wanting a home but needing a break.

While different from Daugherty, there is one beaming thread between the two housing scam stories. They both got incredulous deals.

Wetzel said these crooks always leave a red flag, saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

This was true in Daugherty’s case. The scammer gave her a $750 discount on the rent.

Her crowdfunding effort was started on Dec. 9 with a goal of $7,000. To date, she has raised less than $600, not even a quarter of the money she was scammed out of, and less than the discount she thought she was getting.

Progress Residential eventually gave the mother about $800 to help her move out and back into a place in St. Louis City, CBS 4 reports.

Despite the “unbelievable” stress she said she has experienced; she is not giving up hope and believes this will all work itself out.

“God is the head of our life; I know He will see us through all of this,” she maintains.

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