JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — They paid to turn the lights on and even moved in all of their belongings.
Three days later, Jonathan Padgett said he, his girlfriend Amber and their 1-year-old daughter Amelia are facing eviction after a con artist posed as the owner of a vacant Jacksonville home.
“My girlfriend Amber calls me crying hysterically talking about how there's two Jacksonville Sheriff's officers at the door saying the house is supposed to be vacant," Padgett said.
He said he connected with the con artist through a different home rental listing on Facebook Marketplace.
They never met in person, he was told, due to COVID-19 precautions. However, they communicated over the phone frequently.
“He made it seem so legit," Padgett explained. "So, I just went with it. And thought it was going to be worth something, but it actually wasn't."
He even visited the house before signing what looked like a real lease and sending the fraudster $1,700 for the deposit, first month’s rent and electricity.
They used a website to activate a lockbox for the key.
“They got all my information – my social security number, my previous addresses," Padgett said. "I don't know where our information went with him like that. So, I just hope and pray that he don't do nothing with it."
Now, Padgett and his family are facing eviction.
Northeast Florida Association of Realtors President-Elect Mark Rosener said housing scams happen more often than people think. He shared some tips for house hunters.
“We always encourage anyone that's looking for a home, whether it's to buy or to lease, to use a trusted realtor – somebody that you are face to face with," Rosener explained. "And that has access to the multiple listing service so that it's kind of been vetted. And you know that you're dealing with a trusted professional.”
He suggests doing your research to avoid fraud.
For example, you can check myfloridalicense.com to confirm you’re working with a professional realtor or you can look up county property tax records to confirm you're doing business with the actual property owner.
Rosener also advises house hunters to vet the company and person of contact for a property before filling out a rental application or buyer contract, which will ask for your personal information.
The real landlord and property manager are working with Padgett, but he's having to go through a new rental application process and trying to round up more rent money.
Padgett tried contacting the con artist, but he's ignoring calls.
If you would like to help Padgett pay for their new rent, you can donate to their GoFundMe Page.