HOLLYWOOD (CBS4) – It’s a great house for a young family, but for the folks who live in the little yellow house in the on 24th Court in Hollywood, it’s gone from a dream to a nightmare.

They thought they signed a legit lease when they handed over $3700.  They were wrong.

“They’re obviously incredibly shell shocked because now they suddenly have to move,” said the real owner, Doug Barnard.  “They were just all happy with their house, introducing themselves to the neighbors.”

Barnard didn’t know strangers were in his home until it went under contract for sale and his real estate agent called him with the shocking news.

“The appraiser called me Monday morning and said, ‘I thought you said the house was vacant, there’s a family living in there,’” said real estate agent Esther Templin.  “My first reaction was,  ‘oh my gosh, we got squatters.’”

The family living here did not want to talk, but Barnard said they showed him a lease and everything seemed to be in order – except that whoever drew up the rental agreement is not the owner and the family got duped.

“These poor people,” said Templin, shaking her head, “they were taken, they have small kids and a new puppy, they seem like very nice people, it’s a shame, it’s a real shame.”

“I know how they feel! I know that’s very sad,” said Victoria Penagos on the verge of tears.

She feels their pain.  A couple months ago, she fell victim to a similar scam, handing over 850 dollars thinking she was going to get into an apartment.  It was all a fraud leaving her and her daughter with nowhere to go.

“I was having a lot of my stuff in the car, inside the car, homeless,” she said. “I was homeless. I was here, I was at a friend’s house, another friend’s house and another friend’s house.”

Now she and her daughter live in a room at her brother’s place, and they’re back to square one trying to save money for a deposit on their piece of the American dream.

“Right now I have nothing, I have start on the bottom again,” said Penagos. “It’s hard.”

The family that got scammed in Hollywood is packing up their things.  They expect to be out of the house by Friday.

Police and real estate experts say if you are looking for a rental, it’s best to hire a real estate agent to help you weed out the frauds, or have an attorney check out the lease agreement.  And the cardinal rule, according to victim, police and experts, never hand over cash.


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