LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico family says a fake landlord took them for thousands of dollars. They fell victim to a rental listing scam on what they thought was a reliable site.

It’s been a year of health hardships for Anthony Valadez’s family. However, with things on the mend, they planned on moving into a new home on Oct. 1.

“We just started hitting Facebook and everywhere we can,” said Valadez. “We were just starting to get our life and our finances everything back in order where she was healthy enough, and then this happened.”

They found what appeared to be an available Los Lunas rental through Zillow, a popular real estate and rental market site. Already getting the moving process started, they worked things out virtually with the landlord, paid more than $2,000 in deposits and just needed the keys.

“It was the last day. He had said different things to keep us going, ‘the tenants are moving out on the 15th, they’ve been with me several years, I’m going to give them an extra week until the 21st,'” said Valadez, who says things quickly changed. “He can’t give us the keys, turns out he’s got coronavirus, so he’s going to mail them to us. We’re like ok, now at this point, we’re starting to get a little weary. He’s acting funny and it’s getting really close to the date.”

The keys never arrived. Valadez’s wife went to check things out in person.

“She went and knocked on the door and asked the people, ‘are you renting this house?'” said Valadez. “They said, ‘no, you’re the fifth person to come by. We own this house, we’ve never had it up for rent.'”

Left in a time crunch with nowhere to go, they quickly had to get everything into storage the same day they planned to move and are staying with his parents. Valadez says they couldn’t stay in their old home because the landlord was moving in to renovate it. They say it’s devastating to think scammers are using the pandemic — a time with little-to-no face-to-face meetings — to prey on others.

“It was supposed to be just from one transition right to the next and instead I had to get a trailer, I had to get the U-Haul, I had to get everything to try to get it out as soon as possible. Otherwise, my landlord, who was good to me for several years, wouldn’t have a place to live,” said Valadez. “We’re a small family who just wanted to do better for our family, get into a better home and we were finally doing better financially and everything and he completely took advantage of that.”

In the meantime, Valadez’s coworkers at the Valencia County Animal Shelter, where he works as a kennel tech, have set up a GoFundMe to help the family get back on their feet. He says the kindness of strangers is making all the difference.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the Los Lunas Police Department. They couldn’t tell us if they have a suspect because the case is under investigation.