Scam turns renters into victims
It seemed like a godsend to Melody Mayfield.
Instead, she’s stuck with rental hell: Soon-to-be homeless and seething at a man known to her as “Milton,” whose real identity is the focus of an ongoing Grand Junction Police Department investigation.
“I just wonder how many other people out there he’s done this to,” Mayfield said in a recent interview.
Mayfield, her husband, daughter and two roommates face pending eviction from 286 Snyder Creek Drive, a four-bedroom Orchard Mesa home for which they paid $2,275 in deposit and rent in August. The problem: They didn’t rent from the owner, but the suspect in a new scam hitting the radar of Mesa County law enforcement.
Grand Junction police Sgt. Stan Ancell said he can’t recall a similar case locally in his 17-year career.
“Nationally it has been popping up quite a bit, particularly with the rise in foreclosures,” Ancell said. “You can get a pretty good amount of money out of it for not much work.”
The scam in a nutshell: Predators search for properties abandoned and in foreclosure, break in, change the locks and search for desperate, unsuspecting tenants.
Forced from another Grand Junction rental in late July, Mayfield said she was approached one day inside a local Burger King by a man who said he overheard her conversation with a friend about her housing problems. “Milton” was polite, well-spoken and wore gold chains and a football jersey, Mayfield recalled.
“He said he had a home in foreclosure, but hadn’t gotten a court date yet,” she said. “He said maybe we’d get six months out of it.”
He wanted cash, only. Mayfield said they viewed the house that same night, and days later, signed what appeared to be a valid lease.
She and her husband borrowed several hundreds of dollars from their families to make it happen. “We got all the utilities turned on and nobody said a word,” she said.
“Milton” said he would return mid-month September to pick up second month’s rent. He never showed. The true owners of the property did in early September, and they had a handwritten eviction notice for Mayfield.
“I understand how they feel, but it’s not like we were looking for someone to violate,” she said. “We’re victims, too.”
Roughly a month elapsed from the point the homeowners moved out of the home — which is now in foreclosure — to when they realized strangers were living there, Ancell said.
The owners must now go through civil eviction, Ancell noted, adding police won’t forcibly remove Mayfield and company.
“They legitimately paid an individual who they felt was the homeowner,” he said.
Mayfield, meanwhile, was hitting the classified pages again, looking for new housing.
“I’m being treated like the criminal when I just want to choke the criminal,” she said.
Ancell said renters can check a host of Internet resources, such as a visit to the Mesa County assessor’s website, to confirm ownership of a property.
“First of all,” the detective said, “I wouldn’t be renting a home from someone who approaches you in a Burger King.”