In early August, 35-year-old David Lefevre rented out a home on Calderon Avenue using AirBnB. But, just before he was supposed to stay at the home, he abruptly cancelled his reservation. The apartment was subsequently burglarized, and several items were taken.
On Aug. 11, the victim who lived in the Calderon home called MVPD to tell us that he had gotten a call that someone had opened a credit account and would be picking up a new iPhone at a local AT&T store. Our detectives met Lefevre at the store and he was subsequently arrested on charges of residential burglary, possession of stolen property, identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and possession of another’s identity to commit identity theft. A majority of the items taken from the Calderon home were found in his car.
It appears this is a new crime trend occurring in the Bay Area involving people renting out their homes via services such as AirBnb. Criminals are using these short-term rentals to steal valuables from the homeowners, cause damage to the residence, and obtain personal identifying information about the homeowners. Here are some tips that can help minimize the risk of becoming a victim:
- When thieves look at the possible homes for rent, they often look for homes that appear to be your primary residence (rather than a vacation house). They believe the chance of finding valuables is higher when the residence is owner-occupied.
- Thieves often look for clues in the postings to see if there might be valuables left inside the residence. These clues include mentioning that there is an area (i.e. room or closet) that is going to remain locked during a stay. Thieves believe that these locked areas will contain valuables. It is better to have a discussion with your renters about that once they have reserved your home rather than writing it in the description of the property.
- Do not leave anything of value, including jewelry, portable electronics or important documents (such as passports and social security cards) in your home while you are renting it out. If you must leave these items at home, lock them in a safe that is secured to the floor of your home. Please remember that whatever is left at your home may be stolen, even if it is in a safe or hidden in a place you think nobody will ever find.
- If possible, meet your renters in person rather than leaving a key for them, especially if the account is new. This allows you to have a brief conversation with your renters before you allow them access to your home and everything in it. Remember that you are allowing strangers into your home for several hours or days, so you should spend at least a few minutes talking to them to ensure they appear to be sincere and have good intentions. It is best to meet in a public place where their face is likely to be captured on surveillance video (such as a coffee shop). If your renters are unwilling to meet you in person, this may be a sign they are trying to remain anonymous so they can steal from you. If they meet you in person, but they are behaving suspiciously (inconsistent statements, vague answers, etc.), consider canceling the reservation and calling the police.
- Thieves often use fraudulent identification to open online accounts. When you meet your renters in person, attempt to verify their identity by asking for their driver’s license, and if possible, take a photograph of it. If the renters refuse to show you their identification, or if they do not match the photograph on their profile, this may be a sign that they used someone else’s information to open a fraudulent account. Also, be suspicious of anyone who shows up to meet you saying they are a friend or relative of the renter.
- Ask for the names of every person who will be staying at your property. If the renters refuse to give you everyone’s name, the renter may have bad intentions. Also, compare the size of your home to the number of people who the renter says will be staying at your home. If your home is large and the renter says there will be just one person staying there, this may be a sign your renters have bad intentions.
- Try to take note of the make, model, color, and license plate number of the vehicles your renters are driving.
- Thieves actively try to avoid surveillance cameras. If you have surveillance cameras inside and/or outside your home, a thief is less likely to rent your home than one without surveillance cameras.
- Be cautious of people who are looking to rent your home at the last minute. Criminals looking for an opportunity to take advantage of you will often make a reservation on the same day.
- Be extremely cautious of people who book your home at the last minute and cancel once they find out the hiding location of the key (assuming you do not meet in person). Immediately remove the key from where you told the renters it would be. If the key is already missing, call the police.
- If you feel the renters’ behavior is suspicious during the reservation process, cancel the reservation and call the police.
We are not trying to discourage residents from renting out their homes, but we want everyone to be safe while doing so. If you have been a victim of a crime while renting out your home, please contact us to file a report.