SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Renters here in the San Francisco Bay Area are more likely than most other areas of the country to be victimized by a rental scam.
That's just part of a new study released on Tuesday by the Better Business Bureau. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney looked deeper dive into this issue.
A Stanford trained economist estimates more than five million people have been victimized by this scam. Many people end up putting down money for rentals that don't exist or aren't really available for rent.
They were forced to live in their van after being duped into putting down $10,000 for what they thought was this rental property in South San Francisco.
"This is where you sleep now," asked ABC7 news reporter Luz Pena.
RELATED: How you can avoid online rental scams
"Yeah," said 11-year-old, Elizabeth Treminio.
"Has it been hard?," Pena asked. "Yeah," Treminio said.
"Why?" Pena asked Treminio. "Because it's uncomfortable," she replied.
Lori Wilson of the Better Business Bureau told me on Tuesday this scam is prevalent in the Bay Area.
"As we all know, rent prices have gone up and up. Sometimes we're more desperate. We got to get out of our apartment. We have to find a new one and this price looks pretty darn good," Wilson said.
What happened to the Gonzales' is typical of how this scam works.
RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: South San Francisco family lives in van after losing $10,000 to fake landlord
The fraudster copies photos from a legitimate advertisement.
In this case, the phony ad ended up on Facebook Marketplace. The landlord was conveniently not available to show the inside of the home.
But priced the home at one thousand dollars below market value- an offer the family jumped on.
"I'm going to jump on it because it might be gone. That's what the con artist wants you to think," Wilson said.
Similar scams also take place on rental property when vacationers rarely ever see a property in advance.
They place their listing on legitimate sites, but convince you to close the deal off the site.
"They will usually try to get you to text or email their personal email. Again wire the money, send gift cards," Wilson said.
Fortunately for the Gonzales Family, viewers who saw their plight on ABC7 donated some $16,000 to get them back on their feet.
"I'm surprised. Thank you," said Victor Hugo Gonzalez.
A survey found one out of three victims lose more than $1,000. You can watch the full interview with Lori Wilson of the Better Business Bureau regarding rental scams.
Take a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Bay Area targeted in rental scam, Better Business Bureau says
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