Very unfortunate to be a victim of a rental home scam. Especially if you are out of money with almost 0% chance to recover that payment. As you are reading this story from a local news outlet please know how you can protect yourself from this happening to you.
1. If a rent price is lower than the market of comparable homes and you believe "I have found a great deal before anybody else!" Remember the old wise man saying is still valid - If it is too good to be true, it probably is. When shopping online for rental homes and you pinpoint a listing that is lower than similar homes it is a result of one of two issues. 1. It is a scam and run away as fast as you can. They hijacked the pictures and created their own listing with their own contact info for you to call them instead of the true representative. 2. the overall property condition is lower than it should be. Also be cautious because it is possible the landlord chooses not keep the home properly maintained and may not repair items after you move in.
2. Check out the listing agent or who is claiming to be the representative of the home. The absolute biggest flag is they will want you to send money as a deposit or viewing fee before you view the home. If this happens run away fast! No credible landlord should ask for a deposit before you viewed the home either in person or at least with a virtual tour. An application fee will be charged with submitting an app. The normal protocol is the security deposit will be charged and due within 24 hours after you passed the screening process. And not before.
3. Screen the listing representative the same way a landlord will screen you after you submit an application. Google the phone number to see if the representative have other listings advertised. In the same way google the name and email address. There should be a history of other listings with the same contact info. If there is not that does not mean to run away but further investigation may be in order.
4. Clues to look for in communication with the representative. Is it by email only? Look at the word and sentence structure if it flows properly or not. Do they say they are out of town and cant physically meet? Do they say the sign out front is the prior management company and they have not yet retrieved the sign? Again, don't get caught up with "scoring a great deal" and let your emotions run wild with it. Be cautious until you know for sure the landlord is fully vetted with the steps I am giving you.
5. Self Showings is a new trend especially during this social distancing environment. It is almost to a point where shoppers are expecting it with every home. It is convenient for both the shopper and the management company. Nothing to be concerned about with self showings but it is more important to "screen" the listing agent.
In general, if they don't ask for money up front and the phone number matches with the real estate sign in front then a low chance of a scam. Still be aware!