JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - What seemed like a peaceful and safe neighborhood on the Westside turned out to be the center of a scam.
A handful of families that once lived in some beautiful, two-story houses are now homeless.
Jason Abad is accused of breaking into homes in foreclosure, changing the locks and pretending his company owned the houses.
He did it repeatedly, according to police, and each time demanded the renters pay only in cash.
The house seemed perfect for renter Jae Shealey and her family of seven.
"The neighborhood, the amount of rent he wanted, the area, it was everything I was looking for to settle down for the next couple of years," Shealey said.
Now Shealey's family may be forced out because the lease they signed was fake, according to police. In fact, the home's in foreclosure and is owned by a bank, one that had no idea anyone was living there.
"Besides being scammed out of my money, I have now lost my job and it's hard," Shealey said. "Any day now these people could come and knock on my door and tell me and my children to get out. And where would we go?"
Shealey said she was scammed by Abad. She said he listed the home on Craigslist, and she and her family checked it out, liked it and moved in, not before dropping a $1,700 deposit and paying some $850 a month for rent.
Detectives said Abad filled family after family in home after home in Westside subdivisions.
All the renters said Abad seemed legit. They said he had keys to all the homes he showed them, and he gave them a lease sign. They said when they paid in cash, he gave them a rental receipt, and every time they called him, he always answered the phone.
"He made it sound very believable," Shealey said. "He said, 'Oh, well the owner has a lot of property. He's working down the street right now."
According to a police report, Abad worked as a locksmith, so he was able to cut off the locks from the real owners and put in his own. Police said he posed as a Realtor and made up a fake company called Property Pros Inc.
Neighbors said he would even post a sign in the yards of homes he was trying to rent out.
Now as Abad sits in jail, Shealey's worried her family will be on the streets and homeless because of what she said Abad did.
"It makes me feel really bad," she said. "It makes me feel like I shouldn't trust no one."
Shealey said she's trying to contact the real owner of the home, the bank, to see if she can sign an actual lease so her family can stay in the home they moved into and this time know it's legitimate.
Abad remains in the Duval County jail with bail set at $70,000.
Most Realtors are members of a Realtor association at the local, state and national level. Check out NEFAR.com to search for a Realtor by name.
If the Realtor is a licensee but not a member of a board, renters should be able to find the Realtor's name on MyFloridaLicense.com.
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