Renters scammed by phony landlord

NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA - August 28, 2008 - The catch was: the homes didn't belong to him.

Investigators tell Action News that Michael Romano began his rental scam in May after escaping from the Bucks County Prison, where he was serving a sentence for identity theft.

Police say Romano would call up realtors, then bring his girlfriend and infant daughter to the house, posing as buyers.

Then, police say, he would watch as the realtor punched in the combination to the lock box on the door.

Investigators say Romano would then leave, come back, remove the for sale sign, and try and rent the homes for cash.

Mary Jane Dougherty learned about the scam the hard way.

When she found an online listing for a beautiful home that was in her price range, she thought it was too goo to be true.

"I was thinking there is something funny here," said Mary Jane's daughter Margaret. "The places were beautiful, and for $825...we thought this couldn't be right."

Mary Jane had her son, who is a lawyer, check it out further.

Within minutes, he learned the houses were for sale.

The Doughertys tipped off police and didn't lose a dime, but police say others weren't so lucky.

Romano is now charged in 9 cases, but police believe there are many more victims out there.

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