After losing his mother to cancer, Micheal Jones said he just had to move on from the home they once shared.
“I told my wife I can't do it," he said. "I can't be here no more.”
The couple started looking online for a new home and quickly came across a Cragislist ad. Jones' wife, Elizabeth, was excited.
“My husband calls the man on the ad," she said. "The man tells him 'Would you like to go see the house? I'm at the hospital with my son. I can't make it there, but I have a lock box on the house.’"
After seeing the home in person, they both fell in love. They sent the landlord a text message and he responded with a code for the lockbox, which had the key inside.
The lease stated that the couple would have to wire the landlord the first month's rent and security deposit. So they sent $1,800 and the landlord sent them the signed lease. The house was theirs.
But a few days later, a woman showed up at their doorstep.
“She said that she was the property manager of this house and she said, 'Y’all are not supposed to be here,'” Elizabeth explained. “I said 'What do you mean we're not supposed to be here? I have a lease and the keys to the home.’"
The property manager explained the house belonged to Streetlane homes and they needed to leave immediately. The woman had no idea who the so-called "landlord" was; she didn't even recognize the name.
“Me and my husband, we look at each other and go, 'We're calling the Sherriff out here,'” said Elizabth.
It didn't take long for them to realize they were victims of what experts say is a growing problem. Thanks to technology, the fake landlord had somehow gained access to the lockbox and its code.
The Tarrant County Sheriff's Office released a scam alert during the weekend in regards to cases like this. The department says they are investigating.
As for the real owners of the property, Streetlane homes, they told NBC 5 Responds:
"We're extremely disappointed and disheartened to hear about this scam....We're actively looking into this matter and are 100% focused on getting to the bottom of it….For the time being, we're going to allow them to stay in the home, rent free, for the next two weeks, to give them some time. Should they find a new home and decide to move out, we'll also give them $900 to help with the transition."