LINDEN - A couple is out thousands of dollars after a man claimed to own a house he was offering for rent.
Police say William Proskos, 35, of Cliffside Park, allegedly put a "For Rent" sign in the yard of a vacant home in the Sunnyside section of Linden and changed the locks on the house.
It was all a scam, according to police, because Proskos did not own the home. They've issued a warrant for his arrest and charged him with burglary and theft by deception.
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When a couple called to inquire about renting the home, they met Prokos, and gave him $6,000 in cash for two months rent and fees.
While the couple did take the bait, they also took pictures of Prokos, who called himself "Tommy," along with his truck and license plate.
Several days later the real owner, a woman from Delaware, arrived to check on the house and was surprised to see the couple living there.
"When the legitimate owner showed up, I'm sure she was just as surprised as the tenants to learn that she was the actual owner of the property," says Captain James Sarnicki.
Dennis Valvano is a veteran of the Linden real estate market and says it's a common scam. Someone recently lifted a legitimate ad from his site, Valvano says, changed the contact info, and posted it on Craigslist. "We reported it to Craigslist," he says. "The ad came down, and about a week later, it was back up."
Police say renters should be cautious and do their homework, and be sure to check local records to confirm the landlord actually owns the property.
They say renters should be wary of cash-only demands or a landlord who asks for money to be wired.
The real homeowner is allowing the couple to stay in the house, but now they are paying rent to her.
Police say they expect Prokos to turn himself in.