LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) —
As the Nevada attorney general’s office works on fixing flaws in the foreclosure system that allow clever thieves to take advantage of would-be renters, one victim says her world was rattled for a year, and she still fears for her safety.
Edwina Manning compares her scam experience with being a rat caught in a trap.
“It's just like every day was a guessing game,” she said. “My kids had to be uprooted from their schools and their friends and what they thought was their home.
“I gave this man all the money that I had at the time. We were just making it. I didn't have the means to just get up and go.”
She used the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority's
Section 8 program to find a place for her and her family to live. She moved in and wasn't even done unpacking before someone knocked on her door, demanding she move out.
The scariest moment happened a few months later.
“I had the police kicking down my door and they rushed in,” Manning said. “All my kids were scared. They don't know what's going on. They rushed in and asked me who was I and what was I doing there? They told me they had a report we were squatting in the house.”
Manning fell victim to a scam Deputy Attorney General Russell Smith says in on the rise in Las Vegas.
“They are getting more advanced,” Smith said. “And this is something that's expanding right now.”
Manning paid thousands up front to move into the home, and she lost it all.
“I just don't see how a person could look a single mother in the eye with six children and actually go to sleep at night knowing you're taking from that family,” she said.
Rodney Taylor, Marchello Tanasi, Ikechukwu Olekaibe and John Olekaibe were charged with felonies related to this scam.
Manning's case is alarming because the Housing Authority also was a victim. Deputy Attorney General Smith says the suspects forged documents.
“To the blind eye for the person at the counter, yeah, they looked great,” Smith said. “When we're looking at it with a jaundice eye we're going, ‘Oh, look here they whited this out or whatever.’ “
Dwayne Alexander, deputy executive director of the Southern Nevada Housing Authority, says they have measures in place to combat fraud, but it's a race to stay in front of evolving crimes.
“We're pretty aggressive, and we do try to keep one step ahead of them, and every day it's like people hacking computers,” he said. “We want to have the perfect anti-virus system, but it happens.”
Manning says she feels she was let down by the system.
“I don't say the Housing Authority let them down,” Alexander said. “It's a national problem.”
Smith says all government entities now look very carefully at all real estate documents to combat the fraud, and Alexander says they have a fraud investigator in the office scanning for future forgeries.
Manning’s experience was a hard lesson learned, but she's not alone.
Real estate expert Marcus Conklin says these types of scams can drive down property values since the homes targeted by scammers are usually in disrepair.
He says as landlords try to stop the crimes, they're spending more in repair dollars -- driving up costs on other homes that get passed on to buyers.
“Even though you may not be paying them directly, the fact that fees and licensures expanding go up, those costs are going to be bore in the transactions somewhere over time, Conklin said.
So how do you protect yourself?
- The attorney general's office says if you're asked to pay thousands up front in rent that should be a red flag.
- Do a web search for the person you're dealing with and try to find a picture of them. Smith says these criminals are usually former Realtors and use names of other working Realtors to make their fake business seem legit.
- Dealing mainly with over-the-phone transactions or only emails also is suspicious.
- If it feels too good to be true, it might be and you need to investigate even if you're going through an agency like the Housing Authority.