Fake landlord uses popular payment app to scam hopeful tenants

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We've been reporting about a Bay Area family who lost $10,000 to a landlord who turned out to be an impostor. And the scam seems to be growing. It caught up with a San Francisco woman who thought she was helping her niece find a place to live. It ended in heartbreak. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney was able to help.

This loss goes beyond money -- it means a young woman and her child have no place to live. Our viewer's money went to a fake landlord and now she's asking: can't the banks get her money back? We decided to try.

Tracy Griffin of San Francisco just wanted to help her niece and little grand nephew move from a motel room into a real apartment

"My niece is a single mom, she lives in Los Angeles," says Griffin. "Crystal is her name. She called me... she was excited, she said I found this place Auntie and I really want to get it."

Crystal saw the ad on Craigslist -- an affordable in-law unit in Hollywood.

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"And she had been speaking with the landlord and it appeared to be a go," said Griffin.

All she needed was the deposit. Could Aunt Tracy send the money?

"I said, I do have $400 that I would be willing to send just as a down payment," she said.

In a phone call, the landlord insisted Griffin send him the money through CashApp -- a peer-to-peer payment system.

The man seemed legit. "He was very polite, he kept saying thank you a lot," Griffin said.

So she agreed. CashApp whisked $400 to the landlord. Crystal would get the keys that night.

"And so she waited. It was about 11-ish," Griffin recalled.

But no one came. Crystal drove to the apartment.

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"And she said no one is answering, Auntie, and she started bawling... I was very upset... He's preying on people that desperately need housing... And it really hurt me to the core," Griffin said.

Tracy tried to contact CashApp -- but couldn't find a phone or email. "I tossed and turned all night, I was really upset," said Griffin.

Tracy contacted 7 On Your Side -- we contacted CashApp. A spokesman said the service is NOT intended to send money to strangers. The terms of service has this warning: "fraudulent transactions may result in loss of funds -- with no recourse."

However, CashApp did investigate the case -- and gave us some good news -- which we gave to Tracy.

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"We have accepted the dispute, meaning we have refunded the $400... Oh my goodness. Thank you thank you so much," said Griffin as we told her the news.

Even better, CashApp says it has shut down the scammer's account -- hopefully for good.

"I'm really really, I'm really grateful," Griffin said.

We'll follow up to make sure the money is back where it should go -- and thanks to CashApp for pursuing this scam. Now, Tracy says she can help her niece to hopefully find a real home.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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