LARGO, Fla. — A couple has been arrested after reportedly scamming families out of more than $25,000 in a rental house scheme in Largo.
Nicole Johnson, 29, and David Johnson, 32, had been on the run since June and were found in Las Vegas when police were investigating them for another rental scam.
They reportedly portrayed themselves as the owners of the rental property and started lease agreements with at least 12 individual families.
The Johnsons received deposits from the families, ranging from $1,000 to $4,300 per victim.
The Largo Police Department was called to the scene when four families showed up at the same time to take possession of the rental home. Police say one of the families had traveled from Indiana with all of their stuff in a U-Haul trailer.
Other families were forced to scramble to find a place to live, having already packed up their previous homes to move into the rental home on Lexington Court.
"She told me she owned the house and she was moving into another house.I gave her a $2500 deposit," said Karen Hilo, just one of the rental scam victims.
Now, her stuff is gone, along with her money.
The investigation reveals the Johnsons trolled Facebook and other social media sites to find families looking for rental properties. They gave in-person tours of the home and provided printed and signed lease agreements including receipts for deposits. Police say the names provided by the suspects matched tax records and property appraiser records, which provided a high degree of legitimacy to the scam and the potential renters.
"Everything about this was believable so it just makes it that much harder to swallow," said Detective Steve Allred of the Largo Police Department.
Melissa Colon fell for the scam and is now living in a hotel with her three children.
"I was hoping and just holding onto that little bit of hope that something would work out," said Colon.
Police say the Johnsons left the state and headed to New York just days before the victims were scheduled to move into the rental home.