JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Police say two people are behind bars after posing as landlords of abandoned homes in foreclosure.
Peggy Smith's dream came true earlier this year when she rented one of the homes on the Westside for $800 a month.
"Look at this home. It's gorgeous! I thought it was too good to be true because you can't rent a home like this for under $1,000 a month here, but we thought it was a rent-to-own and maybe that's why it was a little bit cheaper."
But Smith just learned her family lives in the home illegally. Police say they were duped by their supposed landlords, Rosemary McCoy and Elton McCall.
"They were representing themselves as a management company," said Mike Williams, director of Homeland Security and Investigations for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Police say McCoy and McCall began taking over abandoned homes in foreclosure last October. They would then apply for adverse possession of the properties, but before the city could process the paperwork, police say the pair started charging unsuspecting renters, like Smith, between $700 and $1,000 to move in.
"This almost defies common sense that someone can take somebody else's property, put a new lock on the door and then rent it out to somebody else."
In all, police say McCoy and McCall illegally rented out 13 Jacksonville homes over the past nine months.
"I thought nothing of it," said Richie Burgos. He rented a home from the accused just steps away from the Smiths' home.
"I met with McCoy, signed the lease, bought new furniture and moved my family in. The process seemed normal."
He had no idea he was "squatting" until the real owner, a bank, came knocking a few months later.
"When they came over here and said we have to pay them rent we were like, who are we going to send the check to?"
Burgos just learned the real homeowner will allow his family to stay put for now, but Smith may not be so lucky. Her daughter, a new mom, is also a victim in another home rented from the pair just down the street.
"We've got kids. We have nowhere to go, and we ain't gonna get our money back from them either."
Police are working to determine how much money McCoy and McCall made from the alleged scam.
They're each being held in the Duval County jail on 28 counts including fraud, grand theft, burglary and trespassing.
Police said a new state law will help them investigate and prosecute cases like this in the future. It takes effect in July.