LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A growing rental market in the Las Vegas valley means an ever-increasing array of scams targeting those looking for homes and condos.

Patsy Wagner says she lost $950 in May after a home rental scam.

“I cannot tell you how many times I sat there for two hours waiting for this scammer to show up and never showed up,” Wagner said. “He had excuses.”

Not only did he have excuses, but he also had her money. The scam involved Wagner and her godson, who wanted to move to the Las Vegas valley to be closer to his own son in Bullhead City. She was eventually able to find a home for her godson with her remaining money, but remains frustrated about getting scammed.

“I never thought this would happen to me,” said Wagner. “I’m supposed to be smarter than that.”

Wagner isn’t alone. Experts in the Las Vegas real estate market say they’ve seen numerous cases of individuals getting scammed while looking for places to live for themselves or loved ones. David Berry, real estate specialist with Local Reality, says he’s had as many as six clients who lost anywhere from $100 to $3,000 in scams.

“If they would have used a licensed realtor, I’m pretty confident that maybe none of them would have been scammed,” said Berry.

Berry said some scammers create a fake listing known as a phantom rental. Sometimes a scammer can gain access to a lock box code and show a home to would-be renters. That convinces the mark that the scammer is the property’s homeowner or realtor.

The Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada says only seven rental scams have been reported in the past three years, although the number does not include vacation rentals, adding that many scams go unreported.

When contacted for comment, officials from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department say it doesn’t handle real estate fraud and that Nevada’s attorney general would investigate the concerns.

Berry says the foolproof way to avoid such a scam is to talk to a licensed realtor and to avoid paying for anything upfront.

The Federal Trade Commission agrees, providing the following tips for prospective renters:

  • Don’t wire money
  • Don’t provide a security deposit or first month’s rent before signing a lease
  • Look out for property owners or realtors who don’t want to meet in person

Additionally, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada provides a scam tracker used to report and track such scams.