Duped by Craigslist ad
At $550 a month, the rental price for the cozy, yellow home near Colorado Mesa University seemed a perfect fit.
The two-bedroom home with a fenced-in backyard would make a great place for his two girls, ages 3 and 5, to play, Grand Junction resident Jerry Dvorak reasoned.
After finding the listing on Craigslist, Dvorak spent about two weeks emailing back and forth with a man who claimed to be the home’s owner. The owner needed $700 for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent.
He couldn’t show Dvorak the home’s interior because he recently moved his family to New Jersey for a job. Dvorak stopped by the home and peeked through the windows, looking forward to moving into the vacant home.
Soon, Dvorak followed instructions to send the home’s owner $2,150 via Western Union with the promise that a key to the home would arrive the next day by FedEx.
The key never arrived.
Now, Dvorak’s bank account is drained and he has less than two weeks to find a place to live.
“He said the only reason the price is so cheap is because it’s near St. Mary’s (Hospital) and it’s loud at night,” Dvorak said, recalling the conversation with the man who turned out not to be the home’s owner. “I should have known better.”
Two rental home scams like the one that nabbed Dvorak have targeted Grand Junction properties in about a month, according to Grand Junction police spokeswoman Kate Porras.
Sometimes scammers list homes for rent that are legitimate rental properties, snagging a home’s photos and information.
“Some of them get pretty creative,” Porras said. “But the things that should tip you off is if they can’t show the property, they live out of state, or deals that are too good to be true.”
Porras said she didn’t know if other local residents had lost money responding to this fake rental home ad.
However, the real owner of the home reported getting calls about the property and having people looking in the windows, even though she hadn’t listed it for rent.
“A lot of people see a good deal and it’s hard to resist it,” Porras said. “Once they find out what the reality is, it’s not a good deal at all.”
Fallout from the scam hit Dvorak at an especially vulnerable time. He had been unemployed for five months, but found work recently for $8.50 an hour.
His current landlord worked with him for months, reducing his $1,100-a-month rent to $900 a month. Dvorak said his landlord has found someone who can pay the higher rent and asked Dvorak and his family to find another place.
To make matters worse, Dvorak’s sister, Jackie Dvorak, 31, was walking near Clifton Elementary School on March 19 when she was struck by a vehicle.
She recently was released from St. Mary’s with serious brain injuries and now sleeps on Jerry’s couch. Their mother, whom Jerry flew to Grand Junction to help aid in his sister’s recovery, sleeps on an air mattress.
“That was his entire tax return,” Dvorak’s other sister, Kelly Klingman, said of money her brother lost to the scam. “I’ve been reaching out through our church ... we haven’t been able to find anything yet.”
With an eviction date looming, Dvorak said he had the idea to place an ad in The Daily Sentinel seeking help. The listing is in the rentals section.
Dvorak said he realized he had been played when he went back to the home he thought he had paid to rent and found others moving in.
“I pretty much hit rock bottom,” he said. “The stress hit right away. My account was gone.”