NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Suffolk police have started arresting anyone falsely claiming to live inside of a so-called zombie home.

Most are abandoned and in foreclosure, as CBS2’s Steve Langford reported, police are cracking down because criminals operating out of the homes are ripping off unsuspecting renters.

“Over the past two years, we’ve had about 15 homes, zombie homes that are rented out to unsuspecting renters,” Suffolk Legislator Kate Browning said.

Browning said those 15 rental scams were just in her own district. Long Island is awash in foreclosed zombie homes. Suffolk legislators said scamsters are advertising rentals for the abandoned homes, and fixing them up enough to cheat renters out of thousands of dollars.

“It’s very heinous because many times we’re talking about people’s life savings to come up with that deposit or down payment,” Suffolk Legislator William Spencer said.

Police said one home in Lindenhurst is an example. Squatters moved in and portrayed themselves as landlords to prospective tenants.

Neighbors became suspicious.

“I think they were doing something illegal over there, people were coming and going all hours of the day,” Steve Smith said.

After surveilling the property, police arrested the alleged scammers, part of a crackdown ordered by the department’s new commissioner.

“So when it’s clear that someone does not have a right to be on a certain property, we’ll be making summary arrest for trespassing,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini said.

Sini said innocent renters will not be arrested, but they will have to move.

“With respect to anybody that requests you pay cash up front, I would tell you that is the biggest red flag,” he said.

Real estate attorney Pete Hotis has represented cheated renters, he said online ads need to be carefull scrutinized.

“At least be leery and check the person on craigslist or pennysavers, things of that nature because they don’t have to register where they are,” he said.

Police are compiling a registry of all zombie homes to keep a better eye on them.

The towns of Brookhaven and Babylon as well as several civic associations are also compiling zombie home registries.

 

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