Henry County woman charged with attempting to rent out house for sale

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HENRY COUNTY, Tenn. — A woman from Tennessee is now in custody after being accused of a rental scam involving a home that was actually listed for sale.

Paris resident Melissa Bennett has been alleged of attempting to make a profit from a two-bedroom home located at 825 Highway 69 North, which is currently on the market for sale by Cannon Reality group.

For Heather Levesque, it initially appeared to be a promising opportunity. She came across the property, advertised as a rental on Facebook Marketplace, at a price that would save her $400 per month.

At first glance, everything seemed legitimate — there were photos of the inside of the house and a contact number was provided. Levesque expressed, “Usually, when I’ve dealt with people trying to scam me, they would try to get me to email them and stuff. This seemed a little bit different because it had a phone number on it and there were pictures of the inside of the house. It seemed more real to me.”

Initially, Levesque believed that everything was proceeding smoothly. She mentioned, “They sent me a link to my email to fill out the application and I clicked on the link. They had a spot where you upload your ID and everything.”

However, Levesque began to grow suspicious when she was asked for the first month’s rent without being given the opportunity to view the property firsthand. She stated, “It made me sick to my stomach that I had already sent someone money for no reason.”

This particular scam is one that East Tennessee realtor Hayden Smith is familiar with. Last April, he received a call from an enraged tenant who was attempting to move into one of his listings.

Smith highlighted, “She called me and was like, ‘Hey, can you come get your sign out of my yard?’ I was like ‘With all due respect, I don’t know who you are.’”

Smith expressed his relief upon learning about the arrest concerning a rental scam. However, the victim in this case remains at a loss of approximately $1,500.

Smith stated, “You should face the consequences of your actions and I’m glad to hear that that lady was finally brought to justice and hopefully for the people that she scammed, hopefully those people can get their money back or at least spread awareness.”

On the rise in Tennessee, rental scams have become more prevalent due to the increasing number of people moving to the state and the heightened demand for short-term rentals. According to Smith, scammers have gone to great lengths, even resorting to picking locks on properties. If a scammer were to move in, it may require an eviction process to have them vacate.

Smith encouraged other realtors to frequently check on their listings, emphasizing the importance of in-person property viewings before divulging personal information online.

He advised that even if a landlord resides in another city, they should have a local representative available to show the property to potential tenants. A prominent indicator of a scam is when the advertised price appears too good to be true.

Bennett has been charged with impersonating a licensed professional, theft of property under $1000, criminal impersonation, and criminal trespassing. The Henry County Sheriff’s Office is urging any victims of this scam to contact them at 731-642-1672.

The Better Business Bureau has also provided tools and guidance on how to avoid falling victim to potential rental scams:

  • Be cautious of unusually low prices. If the rent for an apartment seems significantly below the market rate, exercise caution as scammers often lure individuals with offers that sound too good to be true.
  • Conduct research. Look up the listing online, as well as the associated phone number and email address. If you come across another listing for the same property in a different city, it could be a scam. Utilize reverse image searches and search the alleged landlord’s name along with the term “scam.” Additionally, search the BBB Scam Tracker for any recent reports.
  • Always visit the property in person. Many rental scams involve fictitious properties. Be cautious if the landlord refuses to disclose the property’s location before completing a credit check or making a deposit. Similarly, be wary if you are provided with the address of a home with a for sale sign in the yard, as you may not be in contact with the legitimate owners.
  • Verify the property owner’s information. Contact a licensed real estate agent to confirm the property ownership or check the county property appraiser’s website. Request a copy of the landlord’s ID to verify their identity before sharing sensitive personal information like your social security number for a credit check. Avoid websites that ask for sensitive information if the landlord declines or becomes upset.
  • Exercise caution with credit check websites. Only use reputable sources, such as those recommended by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Verify that the website is secure and learn how to identify a fake website.

It is important to remain vigilant when searching for rental properties and to take necessary precautions to avoid rental scams.

Nikki McGee
Nikki McGee
Digital Reporter. Nikki attended the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where she served as president of the school’s Society of Professional Journalists. She’s also a proud alumnus of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. Previously, Nikki spent several years reporting in the Midwest at Newschannel 20/WICS in Springfield, Ill. and Fox Champaign. She is passionate about holding government accountable and viewer advocacy journalism.

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