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Scam artists trick renters in L.A. scam

July 24, 2009 12:25:53 PM PDT
L.A. police warn residents of a rental scam involving foreclosed properties. Two suspects have been arrested, but more could be at large.Police said the scam artists would pose as property owners, and then collect cash in exchange for a promise to rent homes to victims.

Authorities believe the scam artists were targeting people throughout Southern California.

Octavio Alvarez, an ex-real estate agent, and Joseph Estrada were caught and arrested by detectives last month during a sting operation.

Detectives said Alvarez would get listings of foreclosed properties, and the pair would target low-income members of the Latino community. They would distribute fliers written in Spanish, advertising homes for rent.

When potential renters would call, the suspects would go to one of the foreclosed homes and pretend to be the owners.

"When the person gets there, because it's in good condition, they'll do a press for a cash deposit. In this particular case it was $900," said LAPD Capt. Bill Murphy during a Friday press conference.

Authorities said the suspects were caught when a woman who paid the first $900 for a home in Cypress Park, happened to talk to a neighbor, who told her the home was in foreclosure. She went to police.

"We immediately put our larceny detectives on that and set up a sting. The sting was a call for the suspect to show up again, to collect the second $900. When he did so, he was with another suspect. We arrested them," Murphy said.

Police believe the suspects may have targeted at least 20 victims.

"Most reputable home owners or real estate agency would accept a check. That's what I would recommend the public to do. If you do not have the ability to have a checking account, go to a bank and get a cashier's check," Murphy said.

The suspects are free on bail. They face charges of commercial burglary and grand theft.

Anyone with information is urged to call the LAPD northeast division at (213) 847-4266.

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