HOLIDAY (FOX 13) - A family in Pasco County says they thought they found the perfect, affordable home to rent, but a scam artist stole their dreams - and their money.
Deputies arrested a woman who they say was preying on those looking for a place to live. The family moved in after they thought they were renting the home from the owner. They got a rude awakening when the real owner tried to show the house to a potential buyer while they were living in it.
Dana Molina said she saw the "For Rent" sign on the side of the road; $800 for a large, two bedroom in Holiday was just within her budget.
"[The woman I called] said she would work with me on the deposit," recalled Molina. "I met her at Burger King, signed a lease, she gave me a receipt and a key."
Molina paid in cash. Her husband, their kids and their cousins' family moved into the home on Bluebird Drive on Friday. On Saturday, there was a knock on the door. It was the realtor hired by the home's actual owners, a couple living in New York, trying to show the home.
"The woman asked me, 'Is the house for rent? I said I rented it last night," Molina said.
Deputies say the person Molina dealt with, who said she was a realtor, is actually 43-year-old Patricia Lamp. Deputies say she ran the same scam using two homes in Pasco County. Her "For Rent" signs show her phone number and she prints out fake leases for her victims to sign.
Lamp has been arrested on other fraud charges in Hillsborough County twice since July, and was arrested Tuesday by Pasco deputies.
"It's disgusting," said Sgt. Chris Thomas of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Molina's family is left in a jam. They can't afford another deposit, and are hoping the real realtor will let them stay another week until her next paycheck comes in.
"We are going to be homeless. Here it is Christmas time, Thanksgiving. Where are we going to go?" she said. "I have called shelters, I have called a lot of places, because our family is so big, nobody is going to take us."
The realtor told FOX 13 that given what the family has gone through, he will give a break on payment if they can meet the usual background and credit requirements. Deputies also say they'll wait before ordering them out.
"We can talk to the owner of the house in New York and say, 'Can you give some leeway and some time?'" said Sgt. Thomas.
Lamp has warrants out for her arrest in Hillsborough County on similar charges of fraud and dealing in real estate without a license.
She was taken to the Pasco County jail is awaiting her first court appearance.