LAKE WORTH, Fla. – A South Florida man was arrested Wednesday after he duped multiple would-be renters into paying deposits for random properties and pocketed their money, deputies said.
Steven Arce, 43, of Lake Worth, faces a charge of grand theft.
According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, deputies began an investigation into Arce on May 25 after a woman reported that she may have been the victim of a rental scam.
The woman told deputies that she met with Arce at a Starbucks in Lake Worth, filled out a rental deposit form and gave him $1,289 in cash as a down payment for an apartment. However, when she tried calling Arce multiple times the next week, he never answered or replied to her.
She then went to the apartment and met with the property manager, who said she wasn't aware of the application and didn't receive any payment.
A detective noticed that a company called Highlight Realty was listed on the rental deposit form, so the woman called the number and asked to speak with Arce. He eventually called her back, saying she failed a criminal records check and couldn't move in, but when the woman requested a refund, he refused "for various reasons," according to a probable cause affidavit.
The woman agreed to try to meet with Arce again about renting another property, but this time a man claiming to be "Andres" answered and said he would be assisting Arce. But instead of meeting with the man to hand over another $4,000, she told the detective, who was waiting when Arce's son arrived at the agreed-upon location.
Arce soon arrived and admitted he had taken $1,289 from the woman, claiming he took her cash and got a money order that he had to cash but got a new one to use for the new property. Arce couldn't explain why he needed a new money order and then asked to speak with a lawyer, the affidavit said.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera said an investigation determined that Arce put his phone number on "for rent" signs at various locations and, upon getting a call, would offer several choices of rental properties, meet with prospective renters, take their money and then disconnect the contact number.
Arce is believed to be responsible for at least four other similar incidents in Palm Beach County. Barbera said Arce pocketed more than $11,000 from his victims.
Detectives believe there are additional victims who have yet to come forward.