AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- A woman in Aurora said her home was listed for rent without her knowledge or permission, leading to people showing up at her house and trying to get inside. She said some have even paid thousands of dollars to rent her home.
But the fake listing is all part of a big scam.
Donna has asked ABC7 not use her last name because so many people have been stopping by to inquire about her home. She understands the interest; she adores her Aurora home, and said she has no plans to leave any time soon.
So it took her entirely be surprise when a stranger showed up unannounced, wanting to take a tour.
"And he told me that he was here to see the house, that he wanted to see it because it was for rent, and I said 'This house is not for rent,'" she recalled. "And he said, 'Yes it is, I've got the paperwork.'"
Donna said the man showed her a lease that the so-called property owner gave him, which included a bogus signature from her.
"I was afraid," she said. "I said, 'Where did you see the house?' He said, 'Well, it's on Zillow.'"
Donna said she searched the real estate site Zillow.com and there it was: her home listed for rent.
"And they took the real estate listing, which shows all the rooms, you know, they showed the house entirely. They had all the pictures. The same thing that attracted me to the house," she said.
Donna called the police and was hoping that would be the end of it. But, she said, the next morning someone else showed up.
"And again she's flashing the papers in front of the door, 'I'm renting your house I want to see it,'" Donna said.
This time the would-be renter was an expectant mother. She didn't want to speak on camera, but said she sent the so-called property owner thousands of dollars up front via Zelle to secure the rental property. She had signed a lease, too.
The woman said it wasn't until she visited the home and met Donna that she realized she'd been scammed.
"I could tell she was devastated with what happened to her," Donna said.
Lisa Kuersten also saw the Aurora home listed for rent on Zillow.
"They really had me fooled because they seemed so sincere in everything they were saying," she said.
Kuersten said the home was perfect, so she applied on Zillow and heard back from the so-called owner shortly after.
"And they said 'great, fill out this information, feel free to drive by the place There's currently people living there so we cannot do a walkthrough,'" Kuersten said.
She said she stopped by and was instantly sold, but grew wary when the so-called owner asked her to send her deposit via Zelle to a property manager.
"That's a red flag. Why are we sending the money to a different person than we've been communicating with?" she said.
After doing more research and looking up the home online, Kuersten found Donna and learned the listing was fake.
"It was terrifying to know that we were close to being scammed. We thought we were doing things right, We thought we did our research," Kuersten said.
FBI Special Agent Siobhan Johnson said losses from rental scams are growing at a disturbing rate.
"So about five years ago, we saw somewhere around $3 million in losses just in Illinois. This year, we saw $6.9 million," she said.
Nationwide, the FBI said it saw $350 million in losses in the last year.
"If a homeowner is a victim of one of these scams, they should be very concerned. What you don't want is for people to come to your property, angry at you, because they lost a great deal of money," said Johnson.
Johnson said homeowners should search their own address online regularly just to make sure there aren't any fake listings. And renters should be careful when wiring money to reserve a property. Wiring money is like handing over cash.
Also, don't pay anything until you've actually seen a property in person.
Donna said just last week, she saw another person drive by her home to take pictures. She's fed up and just wants it to stop.
"Every time the phone rings and they say, 'are you Donna?' and I say, 'yes,' my concern is they are going to say can we come and see your house, it's for rent," she said. "I was gonna put a sign on the door that says 'this house is not for rent.'"
Zillow said the listing was removed by its team within 72 hours after it was posted, and that it actively screens for possible fraud or scams to prevent them from getting posted. Zillow allows users to report suspicious listings, which then get investigated by the platform. If the listing is found to be fraudulent, it is removed from the site as quickly as possible.
Donna said she hopes this story serves as clear warning she isn't going anywhere, and her home is not for rent.
"Zillow strives to provide a safe online community on our platform, and we go to great lengths to monitor activity and fully inform our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves. Our customer support team monitors activity on the site in a number of different ways, actively screening for possible fraud or scams and preventing them from getting posted. If a listing is found to be fraudulent, it is removed from Zillow as quickly as possible.
"Zillow's "Beware of scams and other internet fraud" page provides valuable information for internet users on how to avoid fraudulent listings, including looking out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries." - a Zillow spokesperson
Once you confirmed the correct address, we were able to review the situation. We found that the listing was removed by our team within 72 hours after it was posted.
Also wanted to let you know that all listings on our platform include a "Report a Listing" option for users to flag suspicious or erroneous listings to our support teams, which they then investigate, in addition to their regular screening work.
Again, our Beware of Scams page is a helpful resource that helps users identify potential scams online.