A Florida family who moved into a new home over the Christmas holiday may be out on the street after learning they had been defrauded by a conman posing as a real estate agent who fled with their $3,000 deposit.
Fredy Asevedo sought a rental in Miami for himself, his wife, son, sister-in-law and her son, according to 7News Miami. Describing the rental as a Christmas present to his family, Asevedo signed a lease and deposited $3,000 into a bank account for the first and last months and a security deposit.
The man posing as an agent identified himself as Joseph Willet and claimed to be working for national home leasing company Invitation Homes.
Asevedo said that, not long after signing the lease, Willet started asking for additional money and stopped replying to calls that Asevedo’s boss, Koby Litowich, made on his behalf. The family later discovered that the agent had used a fake address and that the lease they signed was not real.
“Para Christmas, nothing, nada,” Asevedo said in a 7News Miami interview video that is mostly in Spanish. The family still has access to the house but does not know how long they will be able to stay or what they will need to do to fix the situation.
An online search of real estate agents failed to produce one named Joseph Willet in Florida. After Litowitch tried to call the number on the lease, he found that it had been disconnected and that the address he had written on the documents did not exist.
“[Asevedo] came to me just yesterday, on the 24th, and he told me that he had a major problem,” Litowitch told 7News Miami. “That’s when I started looking into it, and we realized that he had been scammed.”
Invitation Homes confirmed that Willet was not one of their employees and released a statement encouraging any potential tenants to contact the company directly about any home they want to rent.
“We are always frustrated to discover that one of our homes has been used for these types of scams, which can have a devastating effect on the victims,” the company told Inman in a statement. “Our goal, as always, is to offer quality homes and ensure our residents have great experiences.”
“With regard to the Asevedos, Invitation Homes understands the difficult situation this family is in,” the statement continues. “Unfortunately, they are living in the home without a lease with us. We have spoken with the family about options to help them through this difficult time. We have communicated to them that they are welcome to stay in the home through the holidays, and we are working with them to find the right longer-term solution for all involved.”
Both online and offline real estate scams are common. To ensure renters sign authentic legally binding leases, experts recommend meeting an agent face-to-face, finding the same property on a site like Zillow or Trulia and then having an expert review all lease documents before transferring any payments.
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