WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. (CBS4)– Francie Nelson was excited about moving into her new Wheat Ridge home.

She found the house listed on Craigslist for $1,800 a month. She signed a lease, got the keys and moved in.

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“It was like, ‘Cha-ching’ when we found it,” said Nelson. “We’ve been off and on homeless for about three years.”

Her teenage children, ages 13 and 16, just finished setting up their bedrooms when they found out the home was a scam. Nelson says police came to her door the day after she moved in, saying the house was in foreclosure. It wasn’t really for rent.

Nelson says she had paid a woman first month’s rent and signed a bogus lease

“She was here. We met her here, signed a lease, all things that would happen in a normal scenario,” said Nelson.

Wheat Ridge Police have arrested Michelle Copeland, 39, in connection with the Craigslist scam.

Michelle Copeland (credit: Wheat Ridge Police)

Michelle Copeland (credit: Wheat Ridge Police)

The Police Department was contacted by neighbors who were concerned that a family had moved into the abandoned home off Harlan and 44th. The neighbors knew the house was in the process of foreclosure and had been vacant for an extended period of time.

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An investigation revealed that the family who was living in the house found it in a Craigslist.org ad under the “For Rent” section. The victim had met with Copeland, who was using the false name of Lisa Sandoval, and negotiated lease terms for the home.

“We said, ‘Thank you’ with tears in our eyes and said ‘Thank you’ and gave her all our money. She handed us keys like she was doing us a favor. I don’t know what kind of person does that,” said Nelson.

Nelson paid cash for the first month’s rent and deposit. The police department determined that Copeland did not represent the homeowner and had no authority to rent the residence.

The Wheat Ridge Police Department is working with several community organizations to assist the victim family with their needs.

Francie and her children in front of the home they rented. (credit: Francie Nelson )

Francie and her children in front of the home they rented. (credit: Francie Nelson )

Copeland is in custody at the Jefferson County Jail on charges of burglary, theft and computer crime. Police believe there may be additional victims involved.

Nelson and her children continue to live in the house. They plan to attend the home’s auction this October to see if they can buy the home from the bank or rent it from whoever does.

Anyone with information related to this case is asked to contact the Wheat Ridge Police Department at 303.237-2220.

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Jennifer Brice is a reporter with CBS4 focusing on crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Jenn.