Many of you already are aware of the various rental scams going on throughout the southland and other blighted areas of the country were foreclosure has left vast amounts of vacant homes ready to be pounced on by predators posing as landlords.
With as many vacant homes as homeless families out there it would only be a matter of time before this latest method of fraud would rear its ugly head. Let me explain.
A criminal can obtain lists of foreclosed homes in any area from just about any Realtor, foreclosure service or public records. The criminal tracks these properties to confirm that they are vacant or better yet, they have been vacant for some time. The ideal candidate is the vacant home that has a "combo" lockbox on the front door since it nearly certain that the combination can be obtained through MLS records, calling the representative from a for sale sign or knowing the common combo codes that have never been customized by the individual who installed it.
Now the criminal has "possession" of a vacant home through the use of a readily available key they removed from a lockbox in order to make copies for himself and his future tenant. The criminal is ready to begin advertising the home in free publications and online classified resources such as Craig's List. These rental listings are detailed with interior pictures they have copied from MLS listing resources and a phone number to call for more information.
The prospective tenant who is very eager to strike up an agreement with just about any landlord who will show sympathy and understanding regarding their recent hardship, foreclosure or short sale that has placed their family on the street with little alternatives due to their unsavory credit status. These former homeowners are willing to provide sums of cash up front to nearly anyone who will look past their poor financial position in light of a property they can once again call "home". First month, last month and a security deposit could total upwards of $7,500 to $10,000 easily handed over in return for a new beginning towards the rest of their lives.
The knowing criminal uses this desperation to his full advantage by forming what look to be authentic lease contracts, possession dates that begin immediately, keys and "lots of luck!" as they are off with the tenant's money never to be heard from again.
The tenant has not committed a crime. They proceed to move into their new "home" without a thought of the true identity of who they signed a contract with. How or why would they research these individuals to be sure that they are the true owners of the property? The criminals showed them a paid utility bill with their name on it as proof of what an average gas bill amounts to. Never mind that the home is completely vacant or that they were told to "look into the windows" if the criminal could not be there to show it to them personally. They were out of state completing their own move.
Never mind that there was a for sale sign rather than a for rent sign in the front yard or that the criminal was the sole contact and not the company shown on the sign. The criminal explains that they had been trying to sell the home until they lost all faith in their Realtor and decided to lease it out themselves instead. That sign will be coming down any day now.
And most of all, don't give a second thought to the fact that the tenant never met the criminal in person. They spoke on the phone, have a fully executed lease agreement left at the home for them under the mat with a set of keys. The tenant's money was wired to a bank account located in or near the state the criminal stated they reside now or left by Western Union to be picked up inside of just about any Wal-Mart across the country.
Sounds too simple? It is. And this is a true story running rampant across the southland. Now what about the tenant's rights? Don't they have a signed lease agreement and possession? Yes, it is a fraudulent contract but the tenant didn't contribute to the scheme. How do you pursue eviction? The true owner is long gone and doesn't care to revisit any more stress related to the home. The bank is yet to foreclose due to their backlog of trustee sales on the calendar. Whose responsibility is it to remove these tenants? Who has the power to evict a tenant holding an executed lease?
Interesting situation to say the least. An entire neighborhood is currently dealing with this same scenario down in Corona, CA. They have been joining together to figure out a way to evict a fraudulent tenant who lives nearby with absolutely NO certain method of how to proceed.