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THORNTON, Colo. (KDVR) — Criminals are capitalizing on COVID-19. A family looking to rent a home is now out thousands of dollars after they did business through a virtual showing.

Because of the coronavirus, many real estate agents are doing virtual tours to help limit face-to-face interactions, but that can make it more challenging to tell if the listing is legitimate.

Karlee De Luca is nearly finished unpacking, but it’s already time for her to move out.

“It’s horrible. It’s upsetting. It’s like your world is coming to an end. Everything you were looking forward to here,” De Luca said.

She just got caught up in a rental scam. De Luca spotted a home on Albion Drive in Thornton for rent on Facebook Marketplace.

“It’s exactly what we were looking for.”

She asked to meet the landlord in person, but he told her due to coronavirus concerns, he would give her a virtual tour.

“He said he was being cautious with COVID. He left the keys in the mailbox,” De Luca said.

After walking through the home, she signed the lease and paid $2,500. But on the first night in their new place, a different family showed up with moving boxes.

“I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? This is my house. I just moved in today,'” De Luca said.

Turns out, both families fell for the same scam.

The Problem Solvers conducted a property search and discovered the home is registered to CSH Property One LLC out of Texas. It was previously for rent through Invitation Homes. De Luca found their sign hidden in a closet.

FOX31 got on the phone called the man posing as the landlord.

FOX31: “Is the house on Albion Drive still for rent?

Man: “Yeah, yeah. My home is available for rent. You want to rent my home?

FOX31: “No. You don’t own the house. This is Krisitn Haubrich with the FOX31 Problem Solvers and we want to know why you’re scamming these people out of their hard-earned money.

Man: “I will tell you something. I will make you pay me some money too.”

The man hung-up. RE/MAX agent Kerron Stokes says it’s best to contact a real estate agent to help ensure a listing is legit.

“Unfortunately, I anticipate we might see an escalation of this because we’re hitting that spring and summer market where people are moving and leases are coming out,” Stokes said.

As De Luca and her family try to find an alternative place to live, she said yet another family showed up ready to move in.

“So that’s three families that fell for this. He got a good six grand from all of us in a couple days.”

The online rental ad has been removed and Thornton police are now investigating.

Experts offer the following advice to avoid getting taken in a rental scam:

  • Be realistic about how much a home is likely to rent for
  • Never send cash to a prospective landlord
  • Do an internet search on the property address that can reveal if it is listed by another legitimate landlord

For more information about how to avoid rental scams, visit Stop Fraud Colorado’s website.