SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- A woman accused of renting rooms she doesn't own to unsuspecting young tenants is being sought in a Craiglist rental hoax police are calling "the worst they've seen" in South San Francisco.
Authorities say the woman, who has no affiliation with the residence on Francisco Drive, listed the five-bedroom home on Craigslist in early October and used a Craigslist email address to set an appointment to show the house. On Oct. 13, the suspect gave a full tour of the 1,410-square-foot home to three 19-year-old victims, who told her they'd like to rent two of the five rooms she was allegedly renting out piecemeal.
Two weeks later, the victims paid the woman with an $1,800 money order to move in Nov. 1, and were given keys to locks she had recently changed, South San Francisco Police Sgt. Bruce McPhillips said. The couple and their female friend lived in the home for a week before they were discovered Thursday by the owner, who called police to investigate the situation.
Authorities quickly determined the victims were scammed by the woman they believed to be their landlord, and have been unable to contact the woman since, McPhillips said. The property, recently purchased from private owners by San Mateo-based Shoreline Asset Group, was not acquired for rental purposes and sat empty for about two months -- enough time for the suspect to allegedly unfold an elaborate housing scam.
"(This) fraudster was probably watching house sales in the area, changed the locks on the doors and rented it out like it was her house," said McPhillips, who noted that despite the relative frequency of Bay Area rental hoaxes, this scam went further than any he's seen in South San Francisco.
Added McPhillips, "I have no doubt she's involved in other scams. People don't do this one time and then go away."
The suspect is described as an Asian woman, possibly Chinese, in her 40s with a light complexion. She is about 5 feet 3 inches tall with an average build and has short, black hair cut into what police described as a "common male haircut."
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone who may have had similar contact with the suspect is asked to contact the South San Francisco Police Department at 650-877-8900.