Woman is charged in rent scheme; Security deposits for townhouse stolen, county police say; More than $10,000 taken; Ads in newspaper varied in description of same property


A 29-year-old Columbia woman cheated eight potential townhouse renters out of their security deposits, collecting more than $10,000 in less than two months, Howard County police charged yesterday.

Police said the woman put several advertisements to rent a townhouse in the 5100 block of Columbia Road in the Howard County Times in August. The ads listed different telephone numbers and numbers of bedrooms, varying from three to four. In at least one ad, an asking price of $1,300 a month was listed.

The woman, who was renting and living in the townhouse, gave at least 10 people a tour of the home, and asked for a security deposit. She also asked potential renters to sign a lease and leave it at her door, police said.

The victims said they heard different stories from the woman about why she was renting the property, ranging from moving to another job to wanting to move in with her boyfriend.

"She had a whole story -- that she and her boyfriend were buying a home in Canton" in Baltimore, said Christine Cade, 26, of Baltimore, who was planning to move into the house Oct. 15 with two other people. "She described the [Canton] house."

Cade said that inside the fully furnished house was expensive electronic equipment and artwork. The house was well kept, she said.

'She was real friendly'

"She was real friendly," Cade said. "She was talking about going to the Merriweather [Post Pavilion] and the bands there" to appeal to young prospective renters.

Cade said she and two prospective roommates each gave the woman $430.

The woman's story began to unravel when a couple tried to retrieve a $1,500 security deposit they gave her Aug. 11. They told police that one week after paying a deposit, the woman said she was no longer moving. The couple scheduled several meetings with the woman to retrieve the money, but she never showed up, according to charging documents.

When the couple went to the house, they found other leases for the same house at the door and approached the other renters. On Sept. 7, a group went to the house to approach the woman, but she did not answer the door, Cade said. Then they called police.

Felony theft charges

Officials charged Traci J. Hall with eight felony counts of theft and one misdemeanor count of theft.

A court commissioner set bail yesterday at $7,500. It was unclear whether Hall posted bail last night.

John Grow, executive director of the National Association of Bunco Investigators Inc., a group that tracks fraud cases, said there have been "at least a couple hundred" similar incidents in the Baltimore region in the past 30 years.

Usually the suspect does not live at the house, he said.

"Most of what I see is a bunch of people showing up at the same time at the house," Grow said. "And there is no one there."

Police interviewed Hall for about two hours yesterday.

"I don't think she had [an escape] plan," said Sgt. Karen Shinham, who is investigating the case. "There was no indication she was moving."

Believed to be acting alone

Officials said they knew little about Hall, but said they believe she was unemployed and that she was acting alone.

"We don't have any information to lead us to believe the owner of the home was involved," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.

The home belongs to Albert Edgecombe of Alexandria, Va., who was renting the house to Hall. Edgecombe declined to comment.

Police are investigating whether others might have given Hall a security deposit.

"She has a very professional demeanor," Carroll said.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

Based on incorrect information provided by the Howard County Police Department, an article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly named Sgt. Karen Shinham as an investigator in a case involving a woman charged with stealing security deposits from potential renters. In fact, police say, Shinham helped execute the search warrant. Officer Sandra Copley is investigating the case. The Sun regrets the error.
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