COLUMBUS (WCMH) -- If you're in the market to rent a house, make sure you know who you're dealing with before handing over your hard-earned money.
Columbus Police say a woman has left several families high and dry after collecting hefty deposits on houses that don't belong to her.
"Harsh, very harsh," said Chad Niemela.
Niemela says he paid Nicole Hornbeck $1,300 down, to rent a house on the East Side of Columbus. Turned out the vacate house belonged to someone else, and Niemela says Hornbeck pocketed the money and disappeared.
Columbus Police Sergeant Dennis Kline said Hornbeck pulled off the same scheme on at least four other families. He said deposits ranged from $400 to $2,000.
Sgt. Kline said Hornbeck used various names and phone numbers, and posted ads on Craigslist. In all of the cases, he said the houses were vacant and/or foreclosed, and said Hornbeck wasn't the owner.
Sgt. Kline said when Hornbeck's victims realized they had been duped, it was too late. He said Hornbeck had the money, and the real property owners forced them to leave. "I use the word heinous," described Sgt. Kline.
Detectives said Hornbeck has been a "suspect for this sort of thing before," and it's likely there are more victims in this case.
If you have any information on the whereabouts of Nicole Hornbeck, or are a victim of this scheme, you're asked to call CPD at 614 645-4545.