By Tavia D. Green
The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle
Lauren Klein thought she had found the perfect home for her young family. She, her husband and their 2½-year-old daughter were preparing to move from Fort Riley, Kan., to Fort Campbell, Ky., when the home at 1021 McClardy Road in nearby Clarksville, Tenn., listed on the Automated Housing Referral Network, a website designed for military use, caught her eye.
"The house looked gorgeous," she said, talking about the pictures posted with the ad.
Looking to rent the home before someone else scooped it up, Klein said she called Stephanie Hairston, and "within 24 hours she had my deposit," sent via MoneyGram.
"We were set to be in on July 6, and we also MoneyGrammed the first month's rent," Klein added.
However, soon after the Kleins made the drive from Kansas to Clarksville, they discovered they had been deceived.
According to Clarksville police Sgt. Cheryl Anderson, Klein is one of 22 people, mostly military, listed as victims in the 1021 McClardy Road scam.
The scam netted between $400 to $2,200 per victim, Anderson said, and four more victims will be added to the case once they arrive in Clarksville and file reports.
Stephanie Marie Jenkins Hairston, 25, of Fort Campbell has been charged with multiple counts of felony theft. She is currently being held in the Montgomery County, Tenn., Jail on a $130,000 bond. She does not have an attorney listed.
"It's unconscionable that someone would actively target soldiers and their families who have just returned from Afghanistan or Iraq and are attempting to stabilize their life," Army spokesman Rick Rzepka said. "They are destabilizing these families, and it's tragic. ...
"These predatory scam artists are about as low as you can get."
Trust No One
Klein said she's always used the Automated Housing Referral Network to find housing. "To even sign on, you must be affiliated with the military in some way. It's not open to the public so I thought the site was pretty trustworthy."
There is no such thing as a trustworthy Internet listing, Clarksville police Officer Jim Knoll said.
"Check out any sort of purchase or rental as much as you can," he said. "If you know someone in the area, contact their unit and have someone go by the residence and check it. There is no 'honesty broker' on the Internet."
According to the FBI's website, scams where crooks promise something and then get money wired to them can be extremely profitable and cost victims millions of dollars annually.
How exactly does a rental housing scam work? According to the FBI, the criminals search websites that sell homes. They then take the information from those ads and repost it with their own email address. To sweeten the pot, the houses are almost always listed at below-market rental rates.
An interested party will see the ad and contact the scam artist via email. The scammer usually explains that he or she had to leave the country quickly for one reason or another to account for the bargain price. The scammer then asks the victim to send money via a wire transfer service because it can't be traced once it gets picked up.
That was seemingly the case with a home on Justene Court, but because the potential renter was working with a reputable local real estate broker, he avoided becoming a victim.
A real estate agent at Keller Williams was trying to help a young man find a rental home and began searching through ads on the Craigslist website.
The agent emailed a seller about a nice home, and the seller sent back a detailed email about a home that the agent knew wasn't available -- the agent knew this because the home was already on the market and Keller Williams was selling it.
The scammer then sent a rental application and instructions on how to wire him a $700 deposit.
A Google search of the property revealed it is an almost $200,000 home.
The scammer finished his email with this plea: "Looking forward to hearing from you with all this details so that I can have it in my file incase of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you... Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the keys to you... Please we are giving you all this based on trust and again I will want you to stick to your words."
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