Patrick Kelly was ready to move. He had met a landlord through an acquaintance, toured a condominium in Parkville, signed a lease in early July and paid the $1,500 deposit. He got a key and moved a few things into the new place.
Then on July 12, Kelly packed his family’s belongings into a moving truck and drove with his fiancee and 5-year-old son to the house on the unit block of Ashlar Hill Court – only to discover a man padlocking his new home.
“It turns out I got scammed by this guy,” Kelly said.
The rental was part of a scam that Baltimore County law enforcement officials say they have seen before: a shyster breaks into a vacant home, then posing as landlord offers it for rent, takes the deposit and disappears.
“I feel disappointed, taken advantage of,” Kelly said.
The “landlord” Kelly met had pretended to own the condominium, which was actually owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD takes over foreclosures of mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
A HUD representative discovered the few things Kelly had dropped off in the condo and that the locks had been changed, and called the police on July 12, Shawn Vinson, Baltimore County police spokesman, said.
Vinson said this is not the first report of a scam like this in the area.
“Probably last year we were seeing the issue a fair share of the time,” Vinson said, saying he is not familiar with reports of any similar incidents this year. In 2016, The Towson Times reported that there were at least four similar cases in Baltimore County.
In 2016, The Baltimore Sun reported an uptick in online rental scams in Towson, White Marsh, Parkville and Overlea involving putting rentals on websites like Craigslist. Vinson said scammers often advertise an abandoned or foreclosed house that does not belong to them for sale or rent.
In July, Kelly said he met the “landlord,” who gave his name as Luiss Weber, through an acquaintance. Vinson said police could not verify that name in a search.
Kelly said he filed a police report and gave investigators as much information as he had on the supposed landlord.
Vinson said police are investigating the incident as a 4th-degree burglary, fraud and theft.
More than 9,000 people in the U.S. were victims of online rental or real-estate scams in 2017, according to the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report. The scams cost victims $56,231,333 nationwide.
Kelly said that not only did he lose his $1,500 deposit, but his family is also displaced as they had already moved out of their former apartment. They are now staying temporarily with his mother in Parkville.
The incident, Kelly said, may push him to take his gutter cleaning business out of state – he had already been considering leaving Maryland, and is thinking about Pennsylvania.
“That was kind of the icing on the cake for me,” Kelly said of the scam.
Vinson said that to avoid being scammed, prospective renters should look up the names of property owners on the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.
“If you’re not dealing directly with the owner, question who you’re dealing with,” Vinson said.