Renter Beware: Scam Alert

When a rental client called Roxane Robinson, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens, and told her about an $800-a-month house she’d seen on Zillow available for rent year round in East Hampton Village, Ms. Robinson knew something was fishy.

Her first clue: Her customer had at first felt as if he’d won the lottery. Alas, the reality is “We don’t have any affordable housing out here,” she said.

The second clue: The “landlord,” ostensibly a missionary in Africa who needed someone to watch his house on a quaint street in the village while he was away, was requiring the prospective tenant to wire the full year’s rent to him.

The clincher: When Ms. Robinson was shown pictures of the house and its address, she realized it was already rented with tenants living in it. “The homeowner said the same thing had happened to them last year.”

When Ms. Robinson’s husband, Tom Jernigan, posted this near-con on the Facebook group Bonac Rentals warning potential renters to beware, readers posted their own versions of a similar story. All had seen pictures of a village house that needed looking after for an absurdly low rent. Some had been told the owner was a missionary; one was told the owner was in the military. All told the fake landlord where to go.

Ms. Robinson attributes such hustles to the fact that so many local homeowners are international, thus aren’t nearby to oversee their properties. Meanwhile, the police have been notified, and time will tell if any patsies have been taken in by the ruse.