A nationwide crime trend has made its way to south Florida. Police in Boca Raton arrested four people they said burglarized a vacation rental. Investigators believe the group followed the same scheme being used across the country.
Police explained crooks create an account on rental websites like airbnb.com. They make a reservation posing as a guest. The host gives them the code to the garage door at their house, or tells them where to find a key.
Then the bad guys cancel their reservation, but they already have information about how to get inside the house. So they go to the house, enter the garage code, and burglarize the rental property.
Matt Aschendorf has rented his second home in Boca Raton using AirBnB for about one year and never had a problem.
But he knew something was off Monday. The group who booked his house canceled at the last minute.
“I was about to go to bed and I just kind of felt I should go by the house and check it. I don't know why, a spider sense,” Aschendorf said.
He had reset the garage code after the group cancelled, so no one should've been inside.
“The adrenaline was pumping for sure,” Aschendorf said. “I pulled up and saw a bunch of people in the house and a bunch of things going on outside the house.”
Investigators said those guests who cancelled the reservation just wanted the garage code to burglarize the house. Detectives believe when the garage code didn't work, the suspects broke in through a sliding glass door.
Aschendorf just happened to catch them in the act. He called police. Officers arrested three men and a 14-year-old boy.
Police spokesman Mark Economou said criminals are taking advantage of the trust built into vacation rental websites.
“It’s just one more scam, if you will, that pops into the minds of criminals,” Economou said.
He encouraged renters to meet guests in person before handing over a key.
“Ask to see a driver's license, make a copy of it. Don't leave a garage code,” he added.
Aschenrdorf is thankful he followed his instincts. Saying, “These kids were younger, but they definitely had a plan and they were definitely out to rob some houses that night.”
Police arrested Jean Henry, 18, of West Palm Beach, Gerard Duchatelier, 20, of Loxahatchee, Braxton Francis, 21, of Boynton Beach. NewsChannel 5 will not name the 14-year-old arrested unless prosecutors decide to charge him as an adult.
This is the only case Boca Raton PD seen in the city so far. They hope raising awareness will prevent criminals from doing it again.
If you have information about the incident, police ask you to contact Detective Dubinsky at 561-620-6232.
Police offer the following tips to minimize your risk of becoming a victim if you plan on renting your house, apartment or condo.
Thieves often look for clues in the postings to see if there might be valuables left inside the residence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 extremely cautious of people who book your home at the last minute and cancel once they find out the hiding location of the key or obtain any codes to access the property. 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.