Yonkers police investigate Craigslist apartment scam

August 19, 2010 4:19:28 AM PDT
Yonkers police are investigating a string of fake Craigslist apartment rentals.

Prospective renters responded to an ad on Wednesday and visited 250 Rumsey Avenue in Yonkers.

"I said, 'Let me come over and look at it,'" Renee Dunkley said. "And when I got here, there were other people here. Other people looking at it too."

It turns out the property really wasn't available. It is, however, at the center of a rental fraud scam that, so far, has victimized three people.

All of them visited the home or another apartment at 110 Livingston Avenue with someone they believed to be an owner, landlord or realtor.

"The prospective renters are then told they can move in to the property in a few weeks time if they pay a down payment or month's security," Yonkers Police Commissioner Edmund Hartnett explained.

Weeks later, the money is gone, the landlord has disappeared and the property is unavailable. Eyewitness News found a flyer that listed Tito Cordova as a contact person. So Eyewitness News reporter Joe Torres called him.

"Tito, do you rent any apartments in Yonkers?" Torres asked.

"No," he said.

"You have no idea how your number got associated with these apartments up for rent?" Torres asked.

"I have no idea," he replied.

So how did the scammers access buildings and apartments they don't own to show them to potential renters? Police said the properties were under renovation or construction. The suspects walked past painters and workers looking like they belonged, probably acting like real estate agents.

"These folks are very good at what they do," Hartnett said. "They are very adept at fooling people and posing as something that they are not."

Detectives traced one of the soliciting calls back Puerto Rico.

The suspects appear to be targeting Hispanics, with the bulk of the incidents reported in Southwest Yonkers.

Authorities say Craigslist is cooperating with investigators to track down the scam artists, who police believe are also working in nearby towns.

Meantime, people are advised to contact their county board of realtors for a quick check on an agent's background.