15 charged in Philly house stealing scheme

February 11, 2009 2:51:35 PM PST
A grand jury in Philadelphia has charged 15 people in a house stealing scam. District Attorney Lynne Abraham said Wednesday that arrest warrants have been issued for the suspects. She says the scheme involved multiple victims and more than 80 properties.

Here's how the D.A. says this massive conspiracy works.

The thieves found seemingly abandoned, vacant homes, which were mostly properties who's older owners have died or have been moved elsewhere.

The criminals then forged notarized sales documents and stole more than 80 homes by going to City Hall and having the deeds transferred away from the rightful owners.

"When family members returned, they found strangers living there and all of the owner possesions stolen, trashed or otherwise," Abraham said.

Abraham says the lawful owners of the properties were unaware of the scam. She says these alleged scammers preyed upon mostly low income immigrants in Kensington, North Philadelphia, and Port Richmond.

"This is especially despicable when the person is victimized by others pretending to help, but who really have no intention of helping, but instead of ripping you off by zoning and treachery," Abraham said.

Abraham says the suspects often targeted immigrant home buyers with a limited understanding of English.

Seven of the suspects in custody include a man who claimed to be a reverend and bishop. Arrest warrants are out for the other eight.

Here are some red flags for homeowners:

Request for payment in cash
Gives entry authorization
(entry authorization is no longer valid because it's part of a defunct program)
Failure to provide deed within two weeks

Here are some tips for homeowners:

Check home regularly inside/outside
Make sure home is maintained and locked
Disconnect utilities or make sure bills are paid
Request for payment in cash
Gives entry authorization
Failure to provide deed within two weeks
Check home regularly inside/outside
Make sure home is maintained & locked
Disconnect utilities or make sure bills are paid

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AP contributed to the story.

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