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CH Greenthal uncovers fraudulent apt broker.

C H Greenthal uncovers fraudulent apt broker

A former used-car salesman representing himself as a real estate rental broker was apprehended earlier this month by the special frauds division of the New York Police Department with the assistance of the Charles H. Greenthal Group, a major New York City real estate firm.

Christopher O'Brien, 26, a one-time licensed real estate salesperson, enticed unsuspecting apartment hunters through classified advertisements in the New York Times which boasted prime, under-market rental opportunities in chic, upper east side cooperatives. The apartments advertised were typically vacant sponsor units and the keys were made available to salespeople through the doorman; a common practice not only among sponsors, but actual owners as well.

Prospective renters would meet O'Brien, who used several aliases including Mike Evans and Burt Goldstein, and, after having seen the apartment, would, at O'Brien's suggestion, complete an application for a credit search. The credit search, they were told, would incur a fee -- usually $80 or $90 -- payable in cash, or check made payable to cash. Days later, when the prospective tenant called O'Brien to inquire of the status of their application, they found the phone number had been disconnected, and their broker nowhere to be found.

Acting upon information supplied by a doorman of a Park Avenue cooperative, the Greenthal Group researched the advertisements which had initially appeared in August, spoke to two victims who had fallen prey to O'Brien's scheme, and combed the real estate classified advertisements for weeks after, waiting for O'Brien to strike again.

And, he did. On Oct. 3 an advertisement ran in the New York Times for a convertible two-bedroom at $1,425 per month. A Greenthal source indicates that the phone number in the Oct. 3 advertisement differed only one digit from the ads which had run in August. Both phone numbers began with a 330 exchange, and upon further investigation it was found that the numbers were actually leased -- just like a post office box -- through a company called American Voice Mail.

Greenthal then contacted the special frauds division of the NYPD, where it was suggested that an appointment be made to view the advertised apartment.

Later that week, two plain-clothes detectives posing as apartment seekers kept the appointment which was made for them. As several other prospective renters were waiting in the building lobby for their own appointments to see the apartment, the detectives arrested Christopher O'Brien charging him with scheme to defraud. He is currently free on bail, pending further investigation by the district attorney's office and the Department of State.

"Situations like this damage the reputation of all real estate brokers," noted Joyce West, director of Charles H. Greenthal Residential Sales. "But, people need to be made aware that these problems exist, and they need to be educated as to how they can protect themselves from these charlatans."

West suggests that renters and buyers alike not only ask for a business card, but also ask to see the pocket card supplied to each licensed salesperson and broker by the Department of State. "Don't be afraid to ask questions and follow up on the answers you are given," she instructs, "and don't ever offer cash or a check made out to any individual as a deposit or fee on an apartment."

West offers the same advise to sellers who have listed their apartments with several firms, and says it's just not enough for a seller to say "key's at the door."

"Sellers need to ask questions--the right questions; after all, their property may be at stake," she said.

By listing an apartment for sale exclusively with one brokerage firm the seller is insured that one salesperson will be responsible for each and every person to whom the apartment is shown. According to West, most sellers find this the most convenient means of marketing their apartment for sale.

West has also indicated that the property management division of the firm, Charles H. Greenthal Management, is currently involved in a campaign to notify all residents of Greenthal-managed buildings of the incident, and further, that the firm is considering a policy whereby all doormen in Greenthal-managed buildings would need to be presented with a salespersons credentials--pocket card and some form of matching photo ID--before being given keys and admittance to apartments in the building. West believes that more stringent broker identification policies need to be put into effect citywide.
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Title Annotation:Christopher O'Brien
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Nov 6, 1991
Words:731
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