Online rental scams cost Northern Virginia victims thousands

Investigators in Northern Virginia are sending out a warning tonight - if you're looking online for a place to live, beware of scammers.

The rental scam primarily uses Facebook Marketplace.

So far this year, investigators said there have been seven reported victims in Loudoun County, losing anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

"The market is tough and people see an ad and think, 'I better lock in something real quick before somebody else gets it' and really that's an incentive for bad people to do this particular scam," said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman.

In the latest case reported over the weekend, a man sent money to a person claiming to have a home for rent in Sterling.

Once he sent the deposit, he went to view the property - and the people who actually live in the home told him it was not up for lease.

And that's when he realized he had been scammed out of a thousand dollars.

Investigators said one home in Sterling had actually been used by scammers to trick three separate people.

"These scams are hard because they go through so many avenues to try to get your money and make it very difficult for us to recover. It's almost impossible to recover," Sheriff Chapman said. "Hopefully, if you catch yourself quick, you can notify your bank and maybe get that money back, but generally speaking, it's pretty difficult to do."

Here's some advice if you're looking online for a place to live: do not send money without having seen the place or seeing the landlord in person. A lot of these scammers use text messages only to communicate.

You can also use county records or Zillow or Redfin to look up the property address and owner information to know if it's legitimate.