Open House, License to Steal? Not So Fast

At an open house real estate agents can show off their latest properties and entice prospective buyers with the warmth and luxury of a "lived-in" home.

But this time-honored tradition has unexpectedly opened the door to more than just interested buyers. Thieves are also finding gold mines in these enviable homes.

In a case that grabbed headlines in 2007, police say two women posing as wealthy home buyers were caught stealing tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise from pricey Manhattan homes.

Watch the story on ABC's "What Would You Do?" tonight at 10 ET.

Stealing at an Open House
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What would you do if, while touring a lavish home filled with expensive treasures and decor, you noticed someone slip something into a bag? ABC News decided to find out by staging an open house.

In an upper-middle-class community in suburban New Jersey, ABC News rigged a home for sale with a dozen hidden cameras, staged it with fine crystal, fur coats, jewelry and expensive gadgets and instructed two actresses to steal in plain view of other visitors touring the home.

The Missing Laptop

Potential home buyers Nina Goffman and Scott Drucks were visiting the open house when Goffman seemed to spot the two thieves steal a crystal bowl from the elaborate dining room table and then swipe prescription bottles from the kitchen counter. Though she appeared to tell Drucks what she'd seen, minutes went by and no one said a word until Margot, another actress cast as the homeowner, told them that her laptop was missing.

The Open House
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Although Drucks never witnessed the crime, he immediately suggested to Margot that the laptop had been taken by thieves and headed to the front door to confront them. The scene turned into a heated altercation as Drucks called 911 and tried to keep the thieves from leaving the house before the cops arrived. Emergency officials were aware of ABC News' experiment.

'Take It Out!'

Next, three friends visited the open house. Melody Huang, Kelly Lin and Gloria Ko were browsing the home when they witnessed the same theft.

Huang's attention quickly shifted from the ornate details of the house to the dubious behavior. When she saw the thieves slip numerous pieces of silver into their purses, she immediately tracked down the homeowner.

"Are they your friends?" she asked.

When Margot said no, Huang told her that the women had been stealing and to check their bags.

Margot purposefully hesitated and stalled, but that didn't stop Huang. Without an ounce of hesitation, she marched over to the thieves and politely asked whether they had put something in their bags.

The two actors denied the accusations and Huang seemed to back down, perhaps doubting what she'd seen, but only momentarily. Meanwhile, in another room in the house, Huang's friend Lin had dialed 911 and was on the phone with the police.

A few minutes later Huang saw the actress steal again; this time she was unstoppable.

"Miss, what are you doing? Miss, what are you doing? Take it out. ... Take it out!" she repeated over and over as she took on the two aggressive thieves who were both much bigger than she.

"You put something in your bag there. I just saw it again!"

As the thieves tried to make a quick exit, Huang, now backed up by her two friends, physically blocked the front door.

Colgate psychology professor Carrie Keating, who had been watching the scene unfold from ABC News' control room, says the women's friendship is probably key to their act of bravery in the name of justice.

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