A man who allegedly posed as a real estate agent to collect hefty rental fees has been arrested in Westchester County, New York.
As first reported by the Putnam Daily Voice, Irvington police arrested Ricardo Gonzalez, 59, on four unrelated instances of fraud in the town of Irvington. In each case, Gonzalez reportedly claimed to be a licensed real estate agent and charged hefty brokers and application fees to people in search of rentals.
Police say Gonzalez scoured Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads.com and Craigslist for properties. By bypassing the MLS, he was able to learn which properties were available for rent and then post fraudulent listings on those websites. In each of the four cases, the tenant would express interest in a rental and give Gonzalez a broker’s fee ranging from $1,800 and $2,300. When they requested access to the apartment, Gonzalez would either stop replying to calls and texts or, in one case, give a check that bounced due to insufficient funds.
On Wednesday, a listing on Zillow was removed for a rental in Tarrytown that named Gonzalez as the agent. A Zillow spokesperson told Inman that the company routinely works to identify and weed out fraudulent listings.
“Our customer support team monitors activity on the site in a number of different ways and if a rental listing is found to be fraudulent, it is immediately removed from Zillow,” the spokesperson said.”Zillow has a ‘Beware of scams and other internet fraud’ page on the site, telling users to look out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries, and directing them to our fraud and scams page, which provides valuable information about how to avoid fraudulent listings.”
After one 26-year-old tenant discovered that Gonzalez was not a licensed broker, she got in touch with the owners of the apartment and managed to rent it directly from them. Another victim, a 42-year-old woman, also learned that Gonzalez was not a broker after contacting the real owners of the building.
Irvington police believe Gonzalez defrauded more than those four victims and are asking anyone with knowledge of the situation to come forward with help in the ongoing investigation. They’re also investigating a claim that some of Gonzalez’s victims are undocumented immigrants who are afraid of being deported if they come forward.
“It is believed that the defendant operated in numerous jurisdictions throughout Westchester and victims should report any crimes to the police agency where the crimes occurred,” Irvington Police said in a statement, stressing that those who come forward will not be asked for their immigration status.
As of Wednesday, Gonzalez was booked into the local jail on $15,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond. Across the country, agent impersonation is a common crime among those looking to scam renters out of broker’s fees. In January, the New York City Police Department arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of collecting deposits for apartment listings that either did not exit or were not theirs to rent.