Victims of rental scam in San Francisco may see cash from woman who bilked them 

Four victims scammed of thousands of dollars while hunting for San Francisco apartments may soon get their money back.

Rachael Marie Smith, 30, is expected to strike a plea deal Tuesday that includes restitution to victims, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Specific terms of the deal have not been released.

Smith was arrested on July 22, 2010, on charges that she bilked at least four would-be renters of some $20,000. Three months later, prosecutors amended their complaint and accused Smith of bilking 14 additional victims. Authorities now estimate Smith’s victims lost $110,000.

Smith allegedly accepted large rental deposits from victims and then told them their move-in date would be delayed because her mother had cancer.

But that move-in date never came, and deposits or phone calls were never returned, police spokesman Sgt. Troy Dangerfield said.

Dangerfield said several people responded to an ad Smith placed on Craigslist to rent her Richmond district apartment in the 5300 block of California Street.

One of the victims, a 22-year-old woman, said she signed a lease for the apartment on July 16 and gave Smith $5,600 for the deposit, Dangerfield said.

Smith later told the woman that she had to care for her cancer-stricken mother, which meant she would not be able to leave the apartment for another month. The woman never heard from Smith again, Dangerfield said.

When the victim complained about Smith’s snub at work, she learned that a co-worker had also signed a lease for the same apartment and paid the deposit, Dangerfield said.

The co-workers notified police through a lawyer on July 19. The lawyer told them he was handling complaints from other clients about Smith, police said.

Smith is charged with eight counts of grand theft and obtaining money under false pretenses in connection with the four victims, Assistant District Attorney Seth Steward said.

Smith is no longer in custody, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

She is scheduled to appear in San Francisco Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Scams on Craiglist have become a common occurrence. Bayview police recently warned of armed robbers who have used the online marketplace to target prospective car buyers.

Last year, a San Bruno man was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing money from more than 30 people who thought they’d bought cheap airline tickets.

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