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COVID-19 Rental Scam Warning

VENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten warned today that county residents should be vigilant when using online listing services to secure rental housing. Such services do not typically verify that the person listing a property for rent is actually authorized to do so. This creates an opportunity for criminals to prey upon unsuspecting victims. These fraudsters seek to exploit housing anxiety amid the COVID-19 pandemic as residents face uncertainty regarding the length of temporary mortgage forbearance accommodations.


Because of the ease of listing a property for rent on the internet using websites such as Craigslist.org, scams are difficult to detect. An online rental scam can be orchestrated from anywhere in the world. Therefore, the District Attorney recommends the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of this type of fraud during the ongoing pandemic:

  • Arrange to meet with the owner or agent to inspect the property prior to paying any money. If the “owner” is out of town or otherwise “unavailable” to show the property, or states the property may not be shown, look for another rental property.
  • Be wary of advertisements offering a property at below market rent or at a significant discount.
  • Do not pay for rent or security deposits with cash or using an online wire transfer.
  • Whenever possible, deliver your payment to an open and established business and avoid sending money through the mail. Demand a signed lease agreement, receipt, and keys to a rental property in exchange for your initial payment.
  • Obtain identification from and make note of whomever is claiming to have the authority to rent out the property. 2
  • Be wary of people who claim to be a real estate or rental agent but provide a business card without a valid California Department of Real Estate (DRE) license number.
  • Use websites that have visible and current customer feedback, ratings on landlords, and a reputation for secured transactions.
  • To prevent your identity from being stolen, do not provide a social security number, driver’s license number, or bank account number until you have verified the person renting a property is actually authorized to do so.
  • If a property is advertised by someone claiming to be a real estate agent, verify their credentials at the California Department of Real Estate website. (www.dre.ca.gov)
  • If the rental listing is being advertised by a property management company, such companies are also licensed by the California Department of Real Estate and their credentials should be verified at the California Department of Real Estate website. (www.dre.ca.gov)
  • The best practice is to work with a licensed real estate agent or property manager to find legitimate available rental properties. If an agent fails to perform due diligence and a consumer loses money as a result, the consumer may contact the California Department of Real Estate and may be able to seek restitution.

Victims and property owners, or agents working on their behalf, who locate an unauthorized property being offered for rent online are encouraged to immediately submit a report to the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit via the following email address: rentalscam@ventura.org. Please only report suspicious properties advertised in Ventura County.

Victims who have been scammed by a fraudulent online rental listing for a property located in Ventura County are also encouraged to submit a real estate fraud complaint form, available on the District Attorney’s website at: http://www.vcdistrictattorney.com/publications/

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Local Real Estate Agent Sentenced for Stealing Construction Funds

VENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that Megan Elizabeth Zucaro (DOB 7/11/70), of Thousand Oaks, was sentenced to 365 days in jail by Judge Anthony Sabo.

Zucaro had previously pled guilty to one felony count of diversion of construction funds. The investigation and prosecution of Zucaro was conducted by the District Attorney’s Office Real Estate Fraud Unit.

Megan Elizabeth Zucaro (DOB 7/11/70)



Zucaro, a local real estate agent licensed by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE), targeted a 91-year-old victim in Piru. Zucaro first convinced the victim to give her a 50 percent interest in his property so she could obtain a loan to develop the property on his behalf. Zucaro paid nothing in return for her interest in the property, currently valued at approximately $2 million. After being added onto the property’s title, Zucaro then stripped the property of its equity by using it as collateral for a hard-money loan. After prepaid interest and loan fees were deducted, Zucaro received net proceeds of $165,000.

Within 30 days of receiving the $165,000, Zucaro spent the funds on personal expenses completely unrelated to developing the victim’s property.
Zucaro was sentenced to 365 days in jail and placed on 60 months of felony probation. She was also ordered to pay $300,200 in restitution to the victim and must surrender her real estate license to the DRE.

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Real Estate Agent Pleads Guilty to Stealing Construction Funds

District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that Megan Elizabeth Zucaro (DOB 7/11/70), of Thousand Oaks, pled guilty to one felony count of diversion of construction funds. Zucaro was charged with one felony count of grand theft, one felony count of diversion of construction funds and one felony count of money laundering. The investigation and prosecution of Zucaro was conducted by the District Attorney’s Office Real Estate Fraud Unit.

Zucaro, a real estate agent licensed by the California Department of Real Estate, was accused of misappropriating approximately $165,000 in loan proceeds. Zucaro convinced a 90-year-old victim to give her a 50 percent interest in his property so she could obtain a loan to develop the property on his behalf. Zucaro paid nothing to the victim in return for her interest in the property. After being added to the property’s title, Zucaro used it as collateral for a loan with net proceeds of approximately $165,000.

Within 30 days of receiving the $165,000, Zucaro spent the funds on personal expenses completely unrelated to developing the victim’s property. Zucaro is scheduled to be sentenced on July 8, 2020, at 9:00 a.m. in courtroom 46 of the Ventura County Superior Court. She is expected to be sentenced to 365 days in jail and placed on 60 months of felony probation. Zucaro will also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim and surrender her real estate license.

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COVID-19 Mortgage Forbearance Warning

  • VENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten warned today that county residents should be extra vigilant about mortgage, forbearance, and loan modification scams as financial predators seek to exploit the current COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 virus, last month alone, mortgage forbearance requests increased by approximately 2000 percent. Such conditions are ripe for financial predators seeking to exploit desperate homeowners with false promises of assistance to delay their overdue mortgage payments.

    The District Attorney recommends the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of this type of fraud:
  • Never pay any person or business for mortgage or forbearance assistance, including the negotiation of a new, lower mortgage payment. It is unlawful for any entity to charge an advance fee to negotiate on a borrower’s behalf with a lender. Borrowers should contact their lender directly to discuss forbearance options, and never go through a third party.
  • Never sign a deed that transfers any portion of home ownership to another person or entity as part of a mortgage assistance or forbearance scheme.
  • Never make any portion of a mortgage payment to anyone other than your lender. Such payments are never passed on to the lender and this often unnecessarily triggers foreclosure proceedings that otherwise may never have commenced.
  • Never stop making mortgage payments to your lender on the advice of a mortgage or forbearance “expert.”
  • Be wary of mailed or telephonic advertisements promising mortgage or forbearance assistance. Legitimate assistance will not come to a borrower, it must instead be sought out.
  • Homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage payment should contact their lender directly to learn what assistance programs may be available.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has also announced that the Federal Housing Administration is offering various mortgage relief options for FHA mortgage borrowers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Details are available at www.hud.gov/answers.

Finally, county residents that need further information on mortgage forbearance scams can contact the District Attorney’s Office Real Estate Fraud Unit directly at (805) 662-1750, or obtain a complaint form at the District Attorney’s website located at www.vcdistrictattorney.com.

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Repeat Real Estate Fraud Offender Sentenced to Prison

RojasVENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that James Anthony Rojas (DOB 1/11/57), of Murrieta, was sentenced to 13 years 8 months in state prison by Judge David Worley. The sentence imposed was the maximum allowed by law. Rojas had previously been found guilty of nine felony counts, including foreclosure consultant fraud, grand theft, and recording false documents following a court trial in January. The investigation and prosecution of Rojas was conducted by the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit.

Rojas targeted real estate owned by five senior citizens in Ventura County. Victims ranged in age from 69 to 90 years old. Using various schemes, Rojas targeted victim properties with false liens and deeds that clouded lawful title to each affected property. Rojas swindled one elderly victim by convincing him to sign a deed outside of escrow for property Rojas promised to purchase for $1.8 million. Rojas then recorded the deed without paying the victim anything in return. Rojas has prior convictions for real estate fraud, including grand theft, forgery, and recording false documents. He currently has similar charges pending against him in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties.

In addition to his 13-year 8-month prison sentence, Rojas was also ordered to pay victim restitution and fined $500,000 by the court.

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Local Realtor Sentenced for Income Tax Evasion

VENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that Debra Elaine Ashcraft (DOB 11/23/57), of Camarillo, was sentenced to 180 days in the Ventura County jail for income tax evasion. The charges were the result of an investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit and the California Franchise Tax Board.

Ashcraft structured payments and bank deposits of real estate commissions she earned to avoid triggering mandatory bank reporting requirements in order to conceal her income from tax authorities. The law requires banks to report transactions exceeding $10,000. She also failed to file California income tax returns for the tax years 2013 through 2017.

Ashcraft was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $78,000 to the California Franchise Tax Board and placed on formal felony probation for 60 months.

 

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Real Estate Agent Charged with Grand Theft and Money Laundering

Zucaro Booking PhotoVENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today the filing of a criminal complaint against Megan Elizabeth Zucaro (DOB 7/11/70), of Thousand Oaks, charging one felony count of grand theft, one felony count of diversion of construction funds, and one felony count of money laundering. The investigation and prosecution of Zucaro was conducted by the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit.

Zucaro, a real estate agent licensed by the California Department of Real Estate, is accused of misappropriating approximately $165,000 in loan proceeds. Zucaro convinced a 90-year-old victim to give her a 50 percent interest in his property in order to obtain a loan to develop the property on his behalf. Zucaro paid nothing in return for her interest in the property, which has an estimated value of $2 million. After being added on to the property’s title, Zucaro used it as collateral for a loan with net proceeds of $165,000. Within 30 days of receiving the $165,000, Zucaro allegedly spent these funds on personal expenses unrelated to the victim’s property development.

Arraignment is scheduled March 5, 2020, at 9:00 a.m. in courtroom 12 of the Ventura County Superior Court. Zucaro is currently in custody with bail set at $500,000. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 3 years 8 months in prison.

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Woman Charged with Posting Fraudulent Bail

2100704VENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that Sasha Carrillo (DOB 11/11/85), of Los Angeles County, has been charged with one felony count of recording a false instrument. The charge is the result of an investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit acting on a report from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office previously arrested Carrillo’s boyfriend, Shane Michael Spring, for narcotics and weapons offenses. During the investigation, law enforcement
determined Carrillo hoped to gain Spring’s release from the Ventura County jail by posting his bail. Using fraudulent paperwork, Carrillo convinced a bail company that she personally owned a home in La Verne that was in fact owned by Carrillo’s uncle.

Carrillo then signed a deed of trust that made the home collateral for Spring’s bail bond. The deed of trust that Carrillo signed was subsequently recorded at the Los Angeles County Recorder’s Office. The bail bond that was fraudulently obtained by Carrillo was then posted with the Ventura County Superior Court resulting in Spring’s release from jail. After Spring’s release, he failed to appear in court, putting the true homeowner at risk of foreclosure. Carrillo will be arraigned on March 13, 2020, at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 14 of the Ventura County Superior Court. Carrillo currently remains in custody with bail set at $500,000. She faces a sentence of up to three years in jail if convicted.

 

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Career Real Estate Fraud Offender Found Guilty

RojasVENTURA, California – District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced today that James Anthony Rojas (DOB 1/11/57), of Riverside, was found guilty of nine felony counts, including foreclosure consultant fraud, grand theft, and recording false documents by Judge David Worley following a court trial. Judge Worley also found true a special allegation that Rojas caused losses exceeding $500,000. The investigation and prosecution of Rojas was conducted by the District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud Unit.

 

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