Katherine Lang arrived to her new Beaufort home Sunday to find someone else’s clothes churning in the washing machine and her dishes stored away.
Dogs and a cat roamed Lang’s home, and two women were talking inside. A couch rested on the back porch.
Another family was moving in.
“I said ‘What are you doing in my house?’ ” Lang said. “It became clear to me what happened.”
The would-be tenants had been scammed.
The 22-year-old victim, Tyggra Shepherd, said she moved to the area from Kentucky with her husband for better job prospects. Shepherd responded to a post in a Beaufort Facebook group from a woman named Rosie Ruggles offering homes for rent.
Shepherd had sent her two small children to stay with family in Kentucky while she looked for a place to live while staying with a friend in Beaufort. The newly renovated, three-bedroom home advertised for $850 per month seemed ideal.
“I was so crushed when I found out it was a scam,” Shepherd said. “... Finding a place to live in Beaufort is hard when you need something you can afford and still raise a family adequately.”
Lang bought the house in October but had been staying in her previous house while waiting for it to sell. She returned from a 10-day vacation and visited her new home in Pigeon Point to check the pipes after the recent freeze.
She drove up to see the door to her shed at the end of the driveway open and unfamiliar items inside. Two women were in the house, and one began to cry when it was clear Lang owned the home, Lang said.
Lang thought the home had been watched during renovation work before she bought the home, when a key had been kept under the plastic cover of an outdoor electrical outlet. The “landlord” had advertised the home as furnished and described items Lang had already moved into the home, including books and kitchen stools.
Shepherd eventually wired the scammers $1,150 per a fake lease agreement and was told the keys would be mailed. The suspected scammer then told the victim the delivery driver with the keys had been arrested and the truck impounded.
Shepherd was told the back door was open and that she could begin moving her things in.
“She made it very believable,” Shepherd said.
When Lang arrived, small dogs were running in the house, a cat was perched on the running washing machine and food was cooking on Lang’s stove. A flatscreen television from one of Lang’s bedrooms had been moved to the mantle.
Police were called, and the women agreed on a time line for Shepherd to move out. Shepherd was encouraged to file a report with the FBI, she said.
This is the only report of a rental scam the Beaufort police has received, Investigator Stephanie Karafa said.
Police are often in contact with local property managers.
A three-officer police task force meets monthly with area property managers, said Susan Trogdon, a residential and commercial property manager at Bundy Appraisal and Management. The officers send the property managers weekly reports of incidents at their properties, including apartment complexes.
Trogdon said she wasn’t aware of any recent scams but has heard of similar cautionary tales involving Craigslist. One of her company’s properties had once been listed on the website, which Bundy doesn’t use.
“They tell people to send the deposit to a certain address, and people trustingly do that,” Trogdon said. “... People just really have to do their research when they do anything online and find a reputable company — somebody you can verify exists.”
Shepherd also cautioned prospective renters to meet their landlord in person and not deal online.
While with Shepherd in her house Sunday, Lang called a number for the apparent scam artist and a person who answered hung up after Lang identified herself. The person Shepherd communicated with on Facebook blocked her on the social media site and also blocked her number.
Lang decided not to wait for her previous home to sell and plans to soon move into the three-bedroom cottage in Pigeon Point, an uptown Beaufort neighborhood.
The locksmith arrived Tuesday afternoon.