A 25-year-old San Pablo woman has been indicted by a grand jury in connection with 23 victims of an online home rental scam in three counties.
We recently reported about a family that faced homelessness because of this scam, which involves the thefts of victims’ rental deposits. As part of the scam, thieves post online ads for rentals of rooms and homes that they don’t own or have authority to rent out, in order to steal the rental deposits.
In spring, Richmond police received numerous complaints about the scam and launched an investigation that led to the arrest of Mercedes Gonzales. During the summer, additional information came to light about more allegations of fraud against Gonzales that involved additional victims, police said.
Late last year and throughout this year, Gonzales allegedly showed houses available for rent and posted about the listings on social media in Spanish.
“She would use an alias to post the listing on social media, including Facebook, and claimed she worked at Kaiser in Richmond,” police said. “However, the defendant did not own or have the authority to rent the unit. The victims in turn paid the defendant in cash, money orders and cashier’s checks. Gonzales created fictitious rental agreements with the victims and collected deposits.”
The crimes were committed in West Contra Costa County, Sonoma County and Solano County, police said.
RPD is reaching out to the public to see if there are more victims.
Gonzales was also charged in a criminal complaint filed earlier this week alleging grand theft and receiving stolen property involving two victims. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is in custody on $540,000 bail.
The bust is credited to a joint investigation by the RPD and the District Attorney’s Special Operations Division, Real Estate Fraud Unit, with Vallejo police assisting and arresting Gonzales last weekend.
Members of the public with any information related to the defendant should call Richmond Police Department Sergeant Tong at 510-620-6668.
“The District Attorney’s Office Real Estate Fraud Unit cautions any member of the public when viewing a rental property. Please ensure that you see the entire property inside and outside as well as checking rental and sales websites to confirm no one else is listing the unit,” stated DDA McCosker. “Any suspicious activity can be reported to our Fraud Unit at 866-223-7283 in English or Spanish.”