NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville area housing market is red hot right now and not just for home buyers and sellers.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates has found scam artists are also tapping into the market.
The latest online real estate scam targets folks who'd love their own house, but can't afford to buy one. But they're given an opportunity to rent to own a home with very little out of pocket and a relatively small monthly payment.
the only problem is: it's an opportunity that's just too good to be true.
Heather Teasley of Clarksville told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "We were looking for at least a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house."
Teasley and her husband, Bill, thought they'd finally be able to afford what they'd been looking for, their dream home.
"I fell in love with it. I was like, I want this house. I want it so bad," Heather Teasley recalled.
And the couple was led to believe they could rent to own a home by the folks running an ad on Craigslist who we found placed dozens of similar ads in cities across Tennessee, as well as in cities in many of the surrounding states.
Heather Teasley said, "I want to shut these people down."
The people behind the ad, GS Rent To Own Assistants, told the Teasleys to go to the real estate website Zillow and find any house for sale that they liked for under $150,000.
Then all the Teasleys had to do was pay GS Rent To Own Assistants a $400 deposit and they were told they'd get the keys in a matter of days.
"They were supposed to take care of the closing costs and everything," Heather Teasley explained.
Once the couple found the house they wanted, they got an email signed by "Sean Harris, manager" at the GS Rent To Own Assistants, informing them that their monthly payment would be just $600 and incredibly that included "lights, gas, and water."
"I asked him, I said, 'Are you sure?' And he said, 'Yes, ma'am. We're sure,'" Heather Teasley recalled.
But when they went to the house to get the keys, they waited nearly three hours and no one ever showed up or ever again answered their calls.
Heather Teasley then came to a realization. "I said we've been scammed."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates found the same thing happened to a single mother here in Nashville who also paid $400.
"He does that to ten people, that's $4,000 -- a hundred people, $40,000. I mean, he's making money!" Bill Teasley figured.
There's not a lot of information out there about GS Rent To Own Assistants. Its website, we found, was registered late last year to an apartment in Texas. And their phones are Internet-based.
Even though they've used a number with a 615 area code, they could be anywhere.
"That's a very common theme in all of the scams I've heard is usually they're trying to collect money fast and upfront, often a wire, and then they disappear, " said Cindy Stanton, president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors.
She added that renting to own is a very complicated process that should take more than a simple online application. And, she warned, watch out for rents that are way below market price and anyone who won't meet you at the property before you hand over any money.
"I would never send any money to anyone without meeting them in person or a representative from their company in person at the property," Stanton explained.
In the Teasleys' case, GS Rent To Own Assistants insisted they pay through the company's website ahead of any meetings.
Ironically, the site has this "Warning For Thieves" that threatens to prosecute anyone who tries to defraud the company.
The Teasleys hope authorities will do the same to the people who run the website.
"We just don't want anybody else to fall victim to these people," Heather Teasley added.
It's important to note that the Teasleys found this home on their own and the people who were selling it at the time were in no way involved or aware of what was going on.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates did reach out to the people who were involved including the registered owner of the website. We can't repeat the language Gershom Stroud used, but essentially he told us were were not getting anything from him.
So what else can people can do to protect themselves from scams like these?
Often, all it takes are a few simple Google searches of the company's name, phone number, and the person you're dealing with to find all sorts of warnings.
If you Google GS Rent To Own Assistants' phone number, you'll find warnings posted by other victims of this scam.
There are also other ways to get into a home when you don't have a lot of money. The Tennessee Housing Development Agency has a program where qualified first time home buyers can get into a home with no money down.
For more information on THDA's program: http://thda.org/homebuyers/first-time