Sacto 9-1-1
February 11, 2009
Sacramento cops probing Craigslist rental scam

From Kim Minugh:

Sacramento police are investigating a woman's discovery of a family living in her supposedly empty, for-sale Meadowview home.

When contacted by police Tuesday, the occupants produced a rental agreement they entered into with a man who posted an ad for the Highbridge Way home on Craigslist, said police spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong.

They reported paying more than $1,000 a rent per month to the man, Leong said.

The homeowner agreed to give them until Feb. 15 to pack up their things and leave, but called police to have the incident documented.

Leong said officers have no information indicating that the family knowingly participated in any wrongdoing.

"It appears at this point that the occupants were victims of this scam," Leong said.

Unsuspecting renters, beware. Such schemes, in which fraudsters rent out vacant homes that do not belong to them, are "nothing new," Leong said. They might be prevalent these days, however, with the abundance of foreclosed homes on the market, he said.

Before entering into a rental agreement, police advise that the potential renter do some homework.

"The best thing is to do research on the place," Leong said.

Keys are not a sign of legitimacy, as a scam artist could have had the locks changed.

Instead, potential renters can go online to the county recorder's office to see who owns the house. They also can ask the alleged landlord for a property deed.

And if the landlord keeps his or her distance - refusing to offer a phone number, for example, or giving a P.O. Box - "that should be a red flag, too," Leong said.

Then there's the West Natomas case.

The rental scam model took on a new twist earlier this month when police began investigating the apparently illegitimate rental of an upscale West Natomas home.

Police recently issued arrest warrants for Phillis Powers, a 54-year-old real estate agent who police say rented the home without the legal ability to do so, and her illegal tenants: Carver Barney, 57, and Sandra Barney, 54. An arrest warrant also was issued for 49-year-old Dennis Eugene, who is a sibling of Powers and Sandra Barney.

They all face misdemeanor criminal trespass charges, according to police.

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