Jennifer Cheshier was excited to move out of her mother's house. She and her husband found a nice home for rent on Craigslist. She toured the house in southwest Bakersfield last month. The couple loved it and paid a cash deposit on the spot. But, when she tried to move in earlier this week, the door was wide open and the place was a mess.
"As soon as you open the door, the smell just made you almost fall,” Cheshier said. “It was awful, really bad. There were holes everywhere. Their stuff was still there, and a bra sitting was on the floor.”
Cheshier spoke to a gardener outside the home, who told her who the homeowner was, and it was not the same guy Cheshier thought she was renting from.
"We were led to believe that we were going to be renting a house, and we ended up finding out that he was actually a renter himself,” she said. “He left without notice, shut his phone off, and we're out $3,000 now."
Cheshier says the renter told her his name was Jamie. She spoke to the real homeowners who said Jamie moved out Monday. She then filed a police report, and officers told her it's a common scam called "renting with the intent to rent."
"They try to rent to as many potential renters as they can and get as much first and last month's rent as they can,” said Sgt. Mary DeGeare, Bakersfield Police Department. “By the time their move-in date rolls around, the renter's gone."
Cheshier says she doesn't want to press charges or sue, she just wants her money back.
“It's sick. It shouldn't happen, and it makes it so you can’t trust anybody,” she said. “It shouldn't be that way. We just want to find a place to live."
And, Cheshier's not the only victim in this rental scam, Jennifer Helms says she too rented from a man named Jamie at the same home on Millikan Way. She also saw the ad on Craigslist. Helms and Cheshier ran into each other at the Bakersfield police station where they happened to be filing reports at the same time.
Helms said she paid a man named Jamie $2,100 and tried to move in on Monday. She saw Jamie moving his things out and he gave Helms a new number to call him, but it was disconnected.
"They took all our move-in money. We have children. We're in a place right now that we need to get out of,” Helms said. “I want to see them go to jail for this. I want them to get caught. I don't want this to happen to anybody else, it's terrible.”
And, there was a third couple at the southwest Bakersfield home trying to move in Thursday afternoon. They say they also paid a man named Jamie $2,100 on Sunday. They drove up from Los Angeles, received keys to the place, and found out it was a scam once they entered the trashed property.
Each couple said Jamie gave them a different last name and occupation. He told the third couple he was an ambulance operator and the others he was an anesthesiologist and a railroad worker.
"You have to know who you're talking to, which all the victims have done in this case,” DeGeare said. "I guess what more they could've done is taken their time a little bit and researched the property."
DeGeare advises renters to go to the County Assessor’s office to check the actual owner of a home, try to rent from a property management group and avoid paying with cash.