New scams target would-be renters

July 13, 2010 7:09:39 PM PDT
If you are looking to rent an apartment or home, you need to be on the lookout for more than just great rent. It used to be the landlord would check you out, but now the tables are turned and you must check out the landlord.

KGO Radio's morning news anchor Jennifer Jones was looking for a new home when she found a great place.

"We looked on Craigslist and found this great house. I thought in the beginning, it was a little too good to be true because it was listed at under $1,500: fabulous house, pool and everything. But it was right down the street, so I've got to go check it out," she said.

Once she saw it, she figured something was up, eventually getting in touch with the woman renting the home.

"I was really shocked when I got the call. It was a call that said is your house still available and I said 'no it is not.' I hung up the phone, it was quick and simple. Shortly after, she called back and said 'let me tell you the story here,'" homeowner Carrie Jaron said.

Jennifer told her she had been e-mailing back and forth with a guy calling himself 'David,' who said he was the homeowner.

"He and his wife apparently had to move to West Africa because they had put a bid in on a petroleum company, and right there I thought, 'that's a little odd,'" she said.

Jennifer didn't get taken in by the scam, but plenty of others do. The economy has left many homes sitting empty and the bad guys are now using that to make a buck.

"This particular crime we've seen an increase in it, probably because of the unique housing situation that we have," Laura Peck from Sacramento Police said. "Somebody identifies a vacant home. They go in and go so far as changing the lock, representing themselves as the owner or landlord and actually go so far as renting it out to an unsuspecting victim."

Kristin Prasad called about renting a duplex and was asked if she want to take a tour.

"I ended up meeting him that day and I looked at the duplex. It wasn't in great condition, but he had all the homeowners' papers and was friendly with all the neighbors, so I didn't think twice on whether it was real or not," she said.

She gave the guy $950 in cash and checks. He changed the locks and gave Kristin the keys and the whole thing was a scam.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation cracking down on the practice, by doubling the punishment for first time rent skimmers.

"Current law right now, ou have to be caught five times rent skimming before it is considered a felony. My law, the first time would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and $2,500 in fines," she said.

It also allows for the prosecution for grand theft, a felony. The bill is making its way through the legislature, but even if it passes be careful went renting. Always meet the owner or agent, check paperwork and ask the neighbors if everything is on the up and up.


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