(WHTM) — Demand remains high for houses and apartments, and scammers are finding ways to trick people into sending money for places that are not even available.

With the cost of new homes and mortgage rates so high, many families are scrambling to find rental homes right now. But beware: scammers are lurking in rental ads everywhere.

Michele Parks found the perfect house not knowing that she was about to fall victim to a rental scam. “I looked up Craigslist, I found this house, $1,000 a month. Nothing is $1,000 a month.”

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She texted the landlord, who gave her the address. When Parks pulled up to the house and saw it all freshly painted and landscaped, she knew it had been what she was waiting for. She wasn’t bothered by the realtor sign out front, figuring the landlord either wanted to sell it or rent it.

The landlord said he was out of town but would send her a key after she wired a $1,000 deposit. She did, but she never heard from him again: it was a scam. All the interior photos had been stolen from the home’s legitimate for sale listing.

The Federal Trade Commission says rental scams are all too common.

“Scammers have hijacked the email account of the property owner on a reputable website, or they’ve changed the email address,” said attorney Christopher Brown. Brown says a rental may be a scam:

  • If you’re told to wire money or pay with gift cards;
  • If the landlord wants a security deposit or rent before signing a lease; or
  • If the landlord says they’re out of the country

Brown says to always compare the price to other rentals in the area. “Ask yourself, is this rent a lot less than comparable rentals? That could be a red flag,” he said.

The key is to never send money if you haven’t gone inside the home or apartment or met the landlord so you don’t waste your money.