The 10News I-Team uncovered a new-age version of the age-old confidence game -- the rental scam.
10News investigators witnessed a burglary taking place in a local neighborhood.
However, it was just one of the crimes going on at the time.
The man seen entering a home doesn't own the house.
"We went along with it, gave him the benefit of the doubt, and lo and behold, we got screwed in the end," said Justin Bina.
Bina is one of the victims of a clever rental scam working around San Diego.
The unidentified man seen entering the home is allegedly a low-level gangster from the East coast. The I-Team has learned he is the likely ringleader of a group of other accomplices.
Another victim, Ben Taley, told 10News, "The guy was being kind of shady. Once I gave him the deposit, I asked for his license information. He said he didn't have it on him and I said I didn't feel comfortable. He got kind of awkward."
According to the I-Team, the scam is simple and clever.
It begins with a team of people using untraceable cell phones.
The group searched the Multiple Listing Service used by realtors, selecting vacant, high-end homes for sale.
They then cut and pasted pictures of the homes into a rental ad on the Craigslist Web site along with their cell phone numbers.
The group rented from three locations:
A La Jolla beach house located on Via Cabera, with three bedrooms, three baths and sitting on 2140 sq. ft.
A home located in Crown Point -- 3500 Buena Vista St. -- that is a two-story, Spanish-style home, with three bedrooms and 2.5 baths.
A home in Pacific Beach -- 4100 block of Kendall Street -- that has three bedrooms, two baths, fireplace, hardwood floors and was fully remodeled.
The I-Team learned that the group would spend one day setting up deals and the next days collecting money.
10News confronted the man seen entering the Pacific Beach home, but he was not about to talk to anybody.
Tracking Them Down
Many are people desperate to find somewhere to live.
They come across a deal, a great house in a great location and the price is right.
It all seems perfect until the truth is revealed.
After being confronted by the 10News I-Team, the group decided to leave.
They were in such a hurry to leave, their car struck I-Team photojournalist Michael Gonzalez.
"At the moment I was standing in front of the vehicle and I realized the guy was going to go, I moved out of the way and apparently he struck the camera guy and took off," said witness Miguel Samaniego.
The incident could have been worse, but Gonzalez is OK.
The group ran after the I-Team asked why their boss was entering the Pacific Beach home he did not own.
JW August of the I-Team said to the man, "Hello, I'm from 10News. I saw you go into the house. Whose house is that? Is that your house? Where are you going?"
The man did not want to discuss the alleged scam he and his partners in crime are running.
The I-Team learned the group had been taking thousands of dollars from unsuspecting would-be renters.
Steve Atkinson of the I-Team asked Taley, "How did you find him?"
Taley said, "On Craigslist."
The I-Team was able to find the group through the Web site with keywords they used.
Atkinson asked Taley, "How much did they take you for?"
Taley said, "$800 total."
The I-Team was able to find out how the group got into the homes.
I-Team research showed that the group was able to access the MLS database to find many details about the home, most notably a number used to open the lockbox on the door of the house and to gain access to the front door key.
I-Team private investigator Kevin LaChapelle listens to a pitch for the house made by one of the men. It is for the house in the 4100 block of Kendall Street in Pacific Beach.
In a phone conversation with the alleged ringleader, LaChapelle said, "Hi, this is Kevin. I was able to get the $1,000 deposit. Is that fine?"
"Yeah, that's fine," said the man.
"He said his dad left the door unlocked for me and to go inside, take a look around the home and see if I liked it, and to leave the envelope with $1,000 cash on the countertop in the kitchen, which we did," said LaChapelle.
Following the instructions, LaChapelle left the envelope -- albeit an empty one -- at the home.
For three hours, the I-Team waited, hoping the group was tempted by an easy $1,000.
Apparently, the group is interested in the money, and the alleged ringleader shows up at the home.
If you recognize any of the members of this group, call the 10News at 619-237-1010 and ask for the 10News I-Team.
The I-Team is working with San Diego Police Department detectives on this scheme and could use the public's assistance in the case.
According to authorities, the scam has recently popped up because the type of locking system on most homes for sale needs an access card.
However, the glut of available homes on the market has reduced the supply for the access cards, so many agents have been forced to use older systems.
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