CLEARWATER (FOX 13) - Plenty of people use websites like Craigslist to buy or sell homes, but authorities warn not everyone out there is who they say they are.
On Friday, police in Michigan arrested Kervin Moreno, a man accused of posing as a real estate agent and broker in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
"He had no credentials. He was not a real estate agent. He was not a real estate broker, " said Special Agent Supervisor Rick Taveras. "He did not represent anyone although he did represent himself to the victims as such."
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, from 2012 to 2014 Moreno scammed at least nine Florida families out of nearly $50,000.
Detectives says Moreno lured most of his victims in using online sites like Craigslist and Trulia, where he listed homes he neither owned nor represented for sale or rent.
According to an affidavit, Moreno led his victims to believe they would be buying or renting properties through him.
They paid Moreno thousands of dollars in what they were told were closing, inspection, down payment or rental fees.
"In some instances those victims moved into the homes and it wasn't until several months later that they discovered that the home they were living in was not theirs," said Taveras.
Melissa Revis rays she reached out to Moreno to help her sell her New Port Richey home and buy a new one.
According to the affidavit, Moreno told Revis her family would have to move out of their home in just five days.
The family of three moved into a hotel.
Revis found a property in Clearwater she wanted to buy and Moreno, who'd told Revis he was a real estate broker, told her she'd need to pay a $2,000 down payment.
The deal never went through and Moreno kept the money.
Soon after, Revis found another home in Clearwater and Moreno again asked for thousands in fees and closing costs.
Revis and her family moved into the home, after signing what they were led to believe were closing documents.
"The neighbor saw us staying there and they called the owner, the owner called the police," said Revis.
When Revis tried to show proof of ownership, she was informed the documents were fake and the people that still owned the home had never even heard of Moreno.
Detectives say Moreno had simply called a legitimate agent for the lock box code and handed the keys off to Revis after she forked over nearly $20,000.
"I found out that the whole entire thing was fake. He had put another family into the home that I owned and was doing the same thing to them," said Revis.
Revis and her family were evicted for squatting, and she was still on the hook for months of back mortgage payments on the home she thought she'd sold.
"I had to sell property. I had to get loans in order to pay for lawyers. It was a horrible," said Revis, who luckily was able to get her old home back after evicting the tenants Moreno had put there. "It was a devastating experience because my intension was to actually purchase something and his intensions from the beginning were to scam me."
Authorities tracked Moreno down in Michigan.
He'll now be brought back to the sunshine state to face charges of an organized scheme to defraud.
Detectives say they see schemes like this every year and there a few ways to protect yourself.
Look up the agent you're considering to work with on the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation website: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/index.html
You can also check with the county's property appraiser to be sure the home you're looking to buy or rent really is on the market.