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Watch out for this rental deposit scam

Ken Kleinlein

Ken Klein­lein

By Ken Kleinlein

Crime Scene

ENGLEWOOD, Fla. – NBC News, the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau, and oth­ers have reported on this scam.

Crim­i­nals search the clas­si­fied sec­tions of news­pa­pers and scan neigh­bor­hoods for rental and for sale signs. When they see any they feel could make money for them they con­tact poten­tial vic­tims and offer the prop­er­ties at amounts far below mar­ket price, request­ing a down pay­ment to acquire a fan­tas­tic deal.

Received the infor­ma­tion below from Deputy Steven Armand, Orange County, Calif. Sheriff’s Office:

Hi Ken,

VISTA LAGUNA,  you know when a house has a name it’s got to be good!

3 bed­rooms, 2½ baths over­look­ing Cress Point direct beach access gourmet kitchen fire pit off street park­ing walk to heart of laguna beach

Per­fect for my love ones 12 miles from my house..

I email prop­erty man­ager an inquire about November.…November is avail­able. “JAMES DOUGLAS” sends me approx­i­mate cost info for 10 days.

I take the fam­ily to Laguna to see VISTA LAGUNA, beach, coast­line view is breath­tak­ing. I enter locked gated patio and find two men load­ing up a car. I asked if they are guests they say they were.

I quizzed on how they like “VISTA.” They said they were there for Easter week and it’s great, the female prop­erty man­ager is great to work with.

I e-mail James to see how to pro­ceed. He says fill out e-mail rental agree­ment and e-mail it back to him. He will then send final cost with info on how to pay the deposit

I get rental agree­ment and notice it has wrong address on it. I e-mail James for a cor­rect one, he e-mails back more info on wiring bank pay­ment but no new rental form.

I e-mail again stat­ing I’d like to meet him at the prop­erty to inspect the house, fill out a cor­rect rental agree­ment and pay the deposit.

He writes back “he’s the prop­erty man­ager” and the pay­ment must be sent via bank wire trans­fer to owner as more peo­ple are inter­ested in same time frame.

RED FLAG!!!!!!!!!!!!

I e-mail James with my phone number.

Thurs­day night at 2130 hours I get a phone mes­sage from James stat­ing I bet­ter wire money quick or I will lose property.

Fri­day morn­ing at 0730 hours. Phone rings with unknown San Diego num­ber, It’s James, hurry with money trans­fer can’t hold prop­erty long. To buy time I tell him SEND ME A NEW RENTAL AGREEMENT AND I’LL GET IT TO YOU THEN AND MAKE PAYMENT, he says OK.

I call LARRY my part­ner telling him my con­cerns that deal is a scam, He agrees to go with me to prop­erty and we’ll snoop around.

We find side patio gate unlocked and go in. IT LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE IS RENTING.


I wan­der around house knock on door, no answer. Larry’s look­ing for any type of rental man­age­ment sign

I close gate and notice two young women walk­ing up from beach stairs headed for gate.  I say “IT’S NOT LOCKED” they turn and stare at me (should we scream or run).

I intro­duce myself and asked if they are guests and they say yes. I explain my inter­ested in rent­ing the house and ask if they dealt with “JAMES,” they respond no. I asked if they sent monies to a “BRETT BENTON” they say no. They tell me they deal with DENISE thru vrbo.com and pro­vide me with her number.

I call Denise and tell her the Read­ers Digest ver­sion of my story. She con­firms JAMES must be a scam­mer. She’ll look at the ad he posted and con­tact her office and the own­ers. She asked what dates I am inter­ested in and will get back to me.

Around 1900 hours I get a call back from DENISE. She thanks me for alert­ing her to the scam.

LAGUNA VISTA is avail­able for the dates I am inter­ested in for November.

THEN SHE GIVES ME THE COST BREAK DOWN FOR TEN DAYSTOTAL ONLY $5,000. She adds that includes the new city room tax for vaca­tion rentals and daily cleaning.

I pick myself off the floor and tell her I’ll check with my wife  (I had $3,000 budgeted).



Folks, if you see a prop­erty rental or pur­chase offer that seems too good to be true there is a good chance it is a scam. Don’t get involved!

Take care, be care­ful, and I’ll see you at the next Crime Scene.

God Bless and pro­tect our Mil­i­tary, Police Offi­cers, Fire Fight­ers, and EMT’s

Happy Birth­day Joe.

Ken Klein­lein is a for­mer detec­tive with the NYPD spe­cial frauds squad, coor­di­nat­ing with local, state, and fed­eral law enforce­ment, and accred­ited secu­rity firms, on mat­ters of crime pre­ven­tion and pub­lic information.

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