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Police issue warning on rental scam

Hand the deposit to a cleaning guy. Cash only. No need to sign a lease.

If the rental agreement sounds a little shady, that’s because it is, and you’ll never actually get a place to live, Fairfax County police said today.

Detectives are looking into a scam that could be linked to swindles in Alexandria, Richmond, Washington, New York and Miami.

"Once you hand your cash over, the money is gone," said Officer Tawny Wright, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Police Department.

Police have arrested two men in the case so far: Richard Armstrong, 29, of the 8500 block of Brooks Street NE, in Washington, and Christopher Stanley, 27, of the 100 block of West 3rd Street in Frederick.

According to Wright, the swindle unfolds when the suspect places an advertisement on Craigslist, touting a great deal on a rental property, with no credit check required. What the victims don’t know is that the property is actually in foreclosure, and isn't really a rental.

How to get the victims inside to take a look?

Wright said the suspects first enlist an unsuspecting cleaning person or handyman to go do work at the property. When this person shows up and finds it locked, he or she calls back to the suspect, who convinces the person to force himself or herself inside. Then the victim shows up. Arraignments are made to give a cash deposit to the cleaner or handyman, who takes a small cut and sends the rest on to the schemer, Wright said.

Police said they have found "multiple occurrences" of the scam, and in one case used an undercover officer to make an arrest.

They are encouraging citizens to be on guard for cash-only, no-signed lease arrangements.

They also want anyone with information about the swindle to call 703-691-2131 or at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Tipsters also can send an e-mail through www.fairfaxcrimesolvers.org or can text “TIP187” plus message to CRIMES/274637.

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  July 1, 2010; 1:29 PM ET
Categories:  Around the Nation , Cons & Scams , Dan Morse , Fairfax  
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