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Rental scam hits McKinney family hard as scammer pretends to be homeowner, collects rent

"A lot of this is emotional damage. [The scammers] build these relationships with you making you feel like you can trust them," said Breanna Davila.

MCKINNEY, Texas — Breanna Davila and her family of five were all kinds of excited to find a good-sized home and on their budget. 

But, like many things go, she learned if it's too good to be true, it likely is.

"This was our home that we were confident that we were going to be living in for two years... that turned into five days," Davila said.

In late October they had found the four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home in McKinney. It had popped up in their Zillow search. 

And within minutes of showing interest in the McKinney home, they got a call from someone claiming to be the owner. That call would ultimately cost them thousands of dollars.

The man on the other line went by the name Floyd Baker, and he said he was out of town and could not give them a tour. But, he did have the link to access the lockbox for the home.

"The seller says, 'here's the lockbox code.' I've essentially told them I'm an agent, may or may not be, and they voluntarily give the code out," said Cliff Freeman, who is a real estate expert of 35 years.

Davila said it happened all too fast and they realized, even at the time, that this process of renting a home went all too easy.

"We just unpacked everything in this home, everything was unpacked," she said.

The reality is the home never belonged to Floyd Baker. It belonged to a company identified as FirstKey Homes. Having the code and a ready-to-go lease agreement only lured Breanna into thinking he was legitimate.

FirstKey Homes confirmed to WFAA midday Thursday that the alleged scammer is not an employee of or affiliated with FirstKey. 

The Davilas had paid first and last months rent by Zelle, which Freeman said is a big red flag. Within days of moving Davila told WFAA an agent with First Key Homes pulled up hoping to give tours of the home.

"They looked at me like a deer in headlights... like 'Why are you here?'" she recalled. 

"There are a lot of people who really need a place to live. [Families] are lowering their standards, lowering their guard and when they see something they jump on it like a rat on a Cheeto," said Freeman.

The scammer made off with thousands of dollars and, ultimately, the Davilas were out of a home. The Davilas estimate they've lost out on over $8,000.

"A lot of this is emotional damage. They build these relationships with you making you feel like you can trust them. I really hope he gets caught, that's my motive here," she said.

Breanna has filed reports with McKinney police. FirstKey confirms to WFAA that it is cooperating with the McKinney Police Department on the case.

"Like homeowners nationwide, our top priority is the safety and security of the homes we offer and the communities we live in and serve. To help deter the public from becoming victims of rental scams criminals, we place collateral prevention materials at each home in high-visibility areas – tags on Rently front door key boxes, counters, appliances, hallways, doors, etc., which Ms. Davila confirmed to us having seen when touring and in the home. We also provide information throughout our website, including every property description, on the dedicated Protect Yourself, Online Help Center, and Legal pages, as well as a link to the FTC website with further tips. We rely upon Rently, a third-party service platform, to provide limited access to our homes, which continues to be important to people due to public health concerns," read a statement from Sasha Shepard, Regional VP of Operations at FirstKey.

Experts told WFAA to always go through a licensed realtor for any housing transactions. Never pay up front. Never pay through a cash app. And if they’re not asking for a background check, then that’s a huge red flag.

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