Stone Mountain, GA (CBS46) A new real estate scheme is conning people out of their homes and money.

It happened to a metro Atlanta woman.

Mary Smith owns a Stone Mountain home and has been paying the mortgage for months.

Smith says the house was for sale and even though it had been vacant for some time, she had no interest in renting it out. And after someone changed the locks unexpectedly, things got worst.

“Someone representing a realtor had changed the locks. Literally, they got into the house by using the code, changed the locks and left. So now we couldn’t get access to our own house,” Smith told CBS46 News. “We went out and there was a family living in the house, they had just moved in.”

In our CBS46 investigation, we tracked down that family and they showed us a lease and the receipt for $1,500 they paid in cash. The family even took a picture on moving day with the woman they say was posing as the realtor.

But after receiving a letter from the Smith’s family attorney, those renters moved out and Smith boarded up the house .

CBS46 tried to contact the real estate agent but the company she listed in the lease had no record of anyone with her name. And they could not identify her picture. The name was also not listed as a licensed agent in the state.

Erin Willoughby with Atlanta Legal Aid says her agency has been representing scam victims for years. She gave tips on how to prevent a similar incident.

“One of the simplest things you can do is go online and look at tax records and you can see who owns the home,” says Willoughby.

Willoughby says the information on the tax record should match the information on lease. And that you should also be observant and watch the person’s demeanor.

“Sometimes you hear about a scam artist, when you ask a lot of questions they get very angry. Those things should be a red flag and that is not someone you want to do business with,” says Willoughby. “So, those are some things the renter can do. And as far as the homeowners are concerned, the first thing I would recommend that you do is check on your property frequently. Don’t trust the lockbox.”

The DeKalb County Police Department is now investigating. They’re asking anyone with information to come forward.

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