Consumer 10 Warning: Rent-to-Own Ads Scam Homebuyers With Fake Listings


UPDATED: Tuesday May 6, 2014 10:56 AM

Some Craigslist ads claim to show homes available for rent in central Ohio. 

But a closer look at the photos, tells a much different story.

Like many families, Hope Ripley says financial troubles were slowing down her family's efforts to buy a home.  She says her family decided to look for rent-to-own properties they could move into more quickly.

She searched Craigslist and found ads for rent-to-own houses all over Central Ohio from a company called First House Financial.

"They said they could get us into the home within three days.  So we were excited about that,” said Ripley.

Each ad featured photos from homes the company said were located in several cities across Columbus, including Hilliard, Canal Winchester and Dublin.

But Ripley became suspicious when the website asked for $199 to see the full list of homes.  “If they said they already had these homes, why do we need to see a list of homes?  So we weren't able to see a list of homes because I wasn't going to give them $200.”

The website for California-based First House Financial appears impressive and professionally set up.

But the Better Business Bureau's Joan Coughlin says that's where the company's professionalism ends.

The BBB has taken in more than a hundred complaints about First House Financial - many unresolved.

Coughlin says individuals that are financially vulnerable are the ones being targeted.

“In their advertising they're offering low credit, low income, for a small fee, ‘we'll find you a home immediately.’ Well, they don't realize that fee is not for finding the home.  They're going to give them a list of individuals and investors to contact regarding those homes.  And then they're not able to get into contact with them and they try to cancel, they're not getting their refunds and they're not getting into the homes they thought they were getting into,” Coughlin explains.

10 Investigates took a closer look at those Craigslist ads and discovered something eye-opening.

A Google search of the photos that were supposedly from a home in Hilliard reveals it's not there at all.

The photos were stolen from a design website.

Another home listed in Canal Winchester was actually located in Norwalk, Iowa.

A house allegedly in Dublin was really in Gilbert, Arizona.

In fact, none of the photos purporting to be rent-to-own properties in central Ohio are actually in central Ohio.

Coughlin says what 10 Investigates discovered validates the BBB's concerns that the company is neither open nor transparent about the way it does business, resulting in an F rating.

For now, Hope Ripley’s family is getting ready to paint their new home.

"Our neighbor came over and asked us if we wanted to rent their home and we were excited. Yes, yes, we will, we will!”

She says her family is happy to get back on their feet in a responsible way.

"It's been a long process, but we're finally starting to get comfortable and be happy living on our own again, so we're excited about that.”

Consumer 10 tried repeatedly to contact First House Financial.  They never responded to the calls or emails.

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