LAWRENCEVILLE — A word to the wise: If you see a Craigslist ad for a rental house from Home Solutions Asset Company, ignore it. And then report to the police.
Gwinnett County authorities recently uncovered a local arm of what they believe to be a national scam bilking everyone involved — homeowners, renters and banks — out of thousands of dollars. The ploy, discovered at four Gwinnett properties so far, is a simple but disturbing one.
According to police reports and spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith, a Las Vegas organization called Home Solutions Asset Company has been scoping out foreclosed or otherwise vacant properties in both Georgia and California, gaining entry by breaking off deadbolts and posting the properties as available for rent on Craigslist.
“They essentially have people that go around and scout these properties out, specifically foreclosed and distressed properties that are empty and bank-owned,” Smith said.
At least four homes in Gwinnett have been rented out to unsuspecting occupants via semi-official looking lease agreements. One victim told police she saw the online listing, called an 800 number and was asked to fill out an online application before forking over an $800 deposit and $800 for the first month’s rent.
It all came to a froth when the actual owner of the Lawrenceville home — living in New York — got a call from a confused former neighbor.
The victim was told that “the company took care of houses by working with banks and placing people in the homes and the tenants would take care of the residences until the banks could sell them,” according to a police report. “(The victim) said she believed the company was renting the house for a bank.”
A second would-be victim was discovered in July when it was discovered she was living in an illegally rented home on Oak Arbour Avenue in Lawrenceville. That renter, Chrischon Ellis, was ultimately arrested, however, when after being informed of the scam by police she allegedly ignored the warnings and asked Home Solutions Asset Company for a job.
Ellis was charged with theft by taking, but Smith said the other tenants, though technically trespassing in the homes, showed “good faith” and wouldn’t be prosecuted.
Police accessed Ellis’ work email and discovered a treasure trove of complaints from across the country.
“In the email account were multiple emails from law offices requesting correspondence as they were representing ‘occupants’ who were being prosecuted, letters from homeowners demanding the company remove ‘occupants’ from their residences, and an email from an ‘occupant’ requesting a refund because she had been removed from a home,” a police report said.
Smith said local authorities were working to identify any local representatives of Home Solutions Asset Company before more than likely attempting to forward on the information to Las Vegas police or some sort of federal agency.
Anyone who may have been a victim of the scam is asked to contact Gwinnett County police at 770-513-5300.