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Single mom of three claims rental scam in Gastonia cost her thousands

She estimates she’s spent up to $900 on application fees that have resulted in nothing for her family.
Seale tells WBTV she transferred two-thousand dollars to who she believed to be the homeowner and was told to come back to sign the lease with him in-person.
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:11 PM EDT
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GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - It seemed to be the perfect place for a single mother of three who was hoping for a fresh start.

Last year, Marie Seale moved from New York to Gastonia desperate to find somewhere a bit more affordable to live. For months, she’s been searching for a rental home, spending hundreds of dollars on application fees.

“Since April, I’ve probably looked at over 50 places,” Seale said. “I’ve filled out a good 30 to 40 applications.”

She estimates she’s spent up to $900 on application fees that have resulted in nothing for her family.

A new twist on a familiar scam targeting the elderly

But last month, Seale says she came across a listing for a three-bedroom house in Gastonia on the real estate website Zillow.com.

She instantly reached out to the listed contact who claimed to be the property owner.

“He said the property is available and I can go look at it at my convenience,” she said.

So, Seale did exactly that. She says she got into the home with a lock box code that the homeowner gave her. She quickly realized it was exactly what she was looking for but was told she’d have to act fast.

“He kept telling me there are other people interested in this house, so you need to hurry up and give me the deposit,” Seale said.

Seale tells WBTV she transferred $200,000 to who she believed to be the homeowner and was told to come back to sign the lease with him in person.

But as she was waiting for him to arrive, something unexpected happened.

“While I was there another real estate agent showed up with his client to look at the house,” Seale told WBTV. “It kind of threw me back because I was like, wait. I’ve already put in paperwork for this house!”

Seale says she waited hours for the man she’d been communicating with to show up that day and he never did. He also stopped answering her calls and texts immediately. WBTV also called the phone number, and no one picked up.

“The last conversation I had with him was May 12th when I told him I was heading back to the property and nothing again,” Seale said while scrolling through her text conversation with the man.

A search of the home’s tax records in Gaston County reveals the homeowner’s name is not who claimed to be speaking with Seale. In fact, WBTV couldn’t locate any record of him online at all.

“I work hard for my money and I work hard for my children and I’m trying to basically start my life over. And I feel like I’m being taken advantage of,” Seale said.

The listing has since been removed from Zillow. A spokesperson for the site provided the following statement:

“Zillow strives to provide a safe online platform, and we go to great lengths to monitor activity and fully inform our users of the risks of scams on the internet and how to protect themselves. Our teams monitor activity on the site in a number of different ways, actively screening for possible fraud or scams and preventing them from getting posted, and if a listing is found to be fraudulent, it is removed from our site as quickly as possible.

Zillow’s ‘Beware of scams and other internet fraud’ page provides valuable information for internet users on how to avoid scams, including looking out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries.”

Seale wishes she would have caught the red flags she now sees in retrospect. Now, she just wants a fair shot to provide for her family.

“How did I fall for this? I thought I did the correct research, but I guess I didn’t,” she said.

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