Better Call Behnken investigates Tampa rental scam

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — First, Dana Molina and her family found out they were scammed. And now, another big disappointment.

Unless something happens, quickly, Molina is just one day away from being homeless.

“Here it is Christmas, and I have my kids and I have to be out on the street,” Molina said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Molina’s trouble began after she and her husband fell victim to a popular rental scam, and the real owner of the house wants her out. Her story is playing out all over the Tampa Bay area. She saw a sign advertising the home in Holiday. The rent was $800 a month, and the house was a dream.

“When I opened the door and walked in, I saw my children growing up there. I saw me growing up there. It reminded me of grandmother’s house.”

A few days in, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office showed up with bad news. Their supposed landlord, Patricia Lamp, did not own the house. Molina had been scammed, and Lamp is accused of doing the same thing in Hillsborough County.

Lamp was arrested, and Molina applied to rent the house from the real owner, but she didn’t qualify. She found out Monday that she has to leave by Wednesday.

“It’s scary to know that I’m not going to be able, after Wednesday, to have a place to live,” Molina said.

Rental scams are so prevalent that law enforcement can’t keep up.

But, there are ways to protect yourself. Make sure the person you rent from owns the home. This is easy to do by looking up the house on your county’s property appraiser website. Talk to neighbors and make sure they know your new landlord. Don’t pay in cash. Search for the home address online and look for multiple rental ads for the same home.

As for Molina, she hopes her story will help others, and she hopes someone will offer her another chance.

“That’s all I want is someone to give my family a chance, to live,” Molina said. “That’s all I want, just a roof over our heads.”

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