GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Police are looking for a man who allegedly scammed nearly a dozen people who responded to an ad on Craigslist looking for an apartment in Grand Rapids.
Jason Lockhart, 37, is on the run and may have gotten away with more than $10,000 from the victims.
This type of Craigslist scam is common. Typically, the victim will see an ad on Craigslist offering an apartment for rent. The fake landlord will post pictures of the place and talk the victim into sending them money for a deposit and the first month's rent sight unseen.
But this particular case involves several interesting twists. For example, in this case, the scammer not only showed his victims the apartment, but he also actually lived there.
About a dozen people looked into renting a nice one-bedroom apartment at 450 Fountain Street NE in the heart of Heritage Hill.
The Craigslist ad listed rent at $600 per month -- a steal in the neighborhood. Prospective renters like Nick Avery were interested.
At first, Avery was skeptical.
"We're a little leery about Craigslist," he told 24 Hour News 8.
But when Avery met Lockhart -- who he thought was the landlord -- in person at the property and was shown the apartment, everything seemed legitimate. He was sold.
"Heritage Hill, $600 with all the utilities included," Avery said. "You cannot beat that. And that was way too good to be true. So I guess if you see that, the red flags should go up."
He said he paid Lockhart a $400 cash deposit on the spot. In the following weeks, he wrote checks totaling $580 for first month's rent and met him again to sign lease papers.
He broke his lease and packed his belongings, but when it was time to move in last Thursday, Avery found the apartment wasn't for rent.
"All these boxes ... we loaded them all up in the truck and drove down there, and that's when we saw the notes on the door and to the unit. No keys in the mailbox. Nothing," said Avery.
Avery learned police were looking for Lockhart and he was out nearly a thousand bucks.
As it turns out, Lockhart had access to the apartment because he lives there. He rented the place last month.
Since moving in, he has allegedly shown the apartment to nine people posing as the landlord, apparently collecting more than $10,000 in deposits and rent from his victims.
The real landlord is Dave Annis. He's been renting properties in Heritage Hill for the past 30 years. He said he feels terrible for the people scammed by Lockhart -- many who now have nowhere to live.
Annis said he did run a background check on Lockhart before renting him the apartment, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Now Annis is working with police to try and track him down.
Lockhart has a long criminal history of cons. He was charged three times between 1996 and 2000 for false pretenses, a form of fraud. He was charged twice for identity theft in 2007 and 2008. At the time, he wrote letters to the the judge promising to change his deceptive ways and turn his life around.
Vehicles occupied by a sheriff's deputy and a Michigan State Police motor carrier officer were hit.
A fire damaged three garages and some homes in a Grand Haven neighborhood early Thursday morning.
The suspects stole cash and fled the scene.