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Investigative reporter Vicky Nguyen looks into claims about Su Wan, a woman who some say has targeted the same Bay Area community for decades, mooching free rides, free meals, even free couture purses. What s more, she s no stranger to small claims court.
“It’s cold hearted.”
“She’s just a scam artist.”
“I was mad as hell.”
“It’s been happening over and over.”
“I want her to pay for what she did to all of us.”
These are the unexpected reactions to someone you could easily mistake for a sweet Chinese grandmother. She might be 85 pounds soaking wet, but talk to her former tenants or the realtors she’s called about buying and selling property, and you’ll quickly learn Su Wan is not one to be taken lightly.
“I don’t know what a con artist or a scammer profile would be but she certainly doesn’t fit that profile in my mind ,” said Robyn Chan, a licensed San Francisco realtor.
Chan says she first encountered Wan back in December of 2009. She says Wan called, expressing interest in buying a fast food restaurant. Chan says the petite, elderly woman spoke with authority, and knew all the real estate lingo. “She wears a Rolex, Coach shoes, Gucci handbag, St John outfits…She showed me bank account [information] to show that she can buy the property with all cash if necessary,” said Chan.
But Chan says when they met for the first time, she got a bad vibe from Su Wan. “She insulted me by saying I don’t think you’re smart…She got abusive.” Chan says she later learned she dodged a bullet, because Wan was well known in certain circles for posing as an investor, and literally taking realtors for a ride, mooching fancy meals, groceries, even Louis Vuitton purses.
“Realtors are like a taxi service to her. She uses us a taxi she doesn’t have to pay,” said Century 21 realtor Thomas Nguyen (no relation to this reporter). “She’s very smart, she scams a little bit.” Nguyen says he spent two days and nearly $200 on meals and groceries for Wan but started to suspect she was a little off because she refused to discuss business after the first day, instead saying she needed to eat first, or run some errands before she could sit down to sign a contract agreeing to work with him.
He says he connected the dots after talking to another agent in his office who said he’d been contacted by Wan and wasted several days with her before realizing she had no intention to buy or sell any property. Nguyen said, “I went to law enforcement already it seems like they’re not going to do anything.”
So he contacted NBC Bay Area and invited us to observe his third appointment with Su Wan. We watched as Nguyen drove her to the dentist, then a dim sum brunch in Chinatown, then across town to buy groceries on Clement Street. He says she told him she’d sign a contract to work with him the next day they met. But as many other realtors told us, it’s a day that never seems to come.
“It erodes your trust in other people and she’s been doing this for years,” said Michelle Bouchet, another San Francisco realtor. “You always meet with people and sometimes it turns into business and sometimes it doesn’t and that’s part of the deal, that’s understood. But when someone purposefully takes away your time and your effort and does so in a way that feels malicious, it just makes you kind of feel sick.”
The realtors say Wan tells them she’s an investor from Taiwan who wants their help to sell two San Francisco buildings worth close to $3 million. They say she brings paperwork showing she owns the buildings, and bank statements that show another $4 million in the bank.
“You pay for me because I will pay you back later,” said realtor Amy Ho, who showed us a receipt from Louis Vuitton for a $1,300 purse. Ho says Wan asked her to buy the bag, promising to pay her back. Ho says Wan kept the bag, and never paid for it.
We asked Wan about the accusations from these realtors and if she had ever taken advantage of them. She said, “Never!” And when we asked if she’d ever bought or sold a home using a Realtor, she said, “No!” She threatened to call an attorney to sue us.
“She knows the courts very well,” said former tenant Selina Wong, who won a $645 judgment against Su Wan for unreturned rent and security deposits. Wong says she sued after Wan made significant changes to their rental agreement after she signed it. “She was verbally abusive.”
Wong’s not the only one. Records show another tenant sued, and won $4,935, for first and last month’s rent and an unreturned security deposit. He never even moved in.
People who have gone to the San Francisco police department say they were turned away, told by some officers that they’ve known about Su Wan for years, but they considered her actions a civil matter, not a criminal one. “Only when I told them about her harassing phone calls would the officer take an incident report,” said realtor Vanessa Miao.
“She said, “I’m going to kill you... I hope you die,” said Realtor Annie Chang who first met Wan last August. She says Wan became aggressive and left multiple voicemails threatening to get her license revoked, which is why Chang thinks most realtors do not pursue claims against Wan. “I mean it’s been a very stressful experience just dealing with this individual.”
But Chang said she’s talked to far too many realtors who also feel they fell prey to Wan. She sent out emails to her colleagues to warn them and to circulate a smart phone picture of Wan. “That’s what’s been great about Annie spreading the word,” said Bouchet.
Chang also sent letters to the SF District Attorney and SF Supervisor Eric Mar to ask for help, before contacting NBC Bay Area and asking other realtors to share their stories too. “I feel like were finally coming together to try to put an end to this thing,” said Chang.
Stephanie Ong-Spillman is the Director of Communications for SF District Attorney George Gascon. She told NBC Bay Area Su Wan’s actions “would constitute a crime if there is proof that she intended to scam victims. If there is proof of intent, she could be charged with misdemeanor grand theft if it's under $950 or felony if it's over $950. We have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt there is a pattern - which means we need more than one victim.”
Ong-Spillman says anyone who believes they are a victim of Su Wan can file a report with SFPD. Click here for the SFPD Financial Crimes Unit. They can also contact Lt. Carlos “Charlie” Sanchez with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office Special Operations Division. His email is email@example.com.