Imagine leaving your home for a while and coming back to find the locks have been changed, all your stuff is gone and there is a stranger in your house, living there. That's just what happened to one couple. Matt Meagher has INSIDE EDITION's investigation.
When Tom Decker and his wife Maria tried to open the door of their weekend home in Northern California, they were horrified to find the locks had been changed, and most surprising of all, a total stranger living inside.
"I was in shock. I was in total shock, " said Maria MacArther.
It was as if they had stepped into a nightmare. Their home, which they owned for three years, was apparently no longer theirs.
So who was the stranger in their house? It was Daniel Judd.
Tom Decker told INSIDE EDITION, "He said, 'I live here, what are you doing here?' and we said 'we own this house.' He said, 'I bought this house, this is my house.' "
The first thing Tom and Maria did was call the sheriff's office. But when a deputy arrived, Judd produced a deed with his name on it.
Believe it or not, it was Tom and Maria who were ordered to leave.
Santa Cruz Assistant District Attorney Kelly Walker said, "The people come back from vacation and find someone living in their house, can you imagine what you would feel like if that happened?"
The next day, when Judd left the house, the Deckers broke back into their own home. What they found was disturbing. Their clothing, furniture and appliances packed away in the garage.
They also said they discovered anti-government literature, guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Tom pointed out some of the bullets and said, "These are 45 caliber bullets and you can see that they are hollow point."
Meagher asked Judd, "Did you steal this person's home?"
"Absolutely not," said Judd.
On the surface, Judd seemed to have a case for ownership. He had a deed, with his name on it, which had been filed in the county recorder's office. He said he paid $14,000 for the Deckers' home. Yet the house, tucked inside the woods, is worth $500,000.
So who had Judd bought it from? It sure wasn't the Deckers. It was from 38-year-old Ray Tate, a real estate speculator. Turns out Tate and Judd had been acquaintances and concocted a scheme to grab the Decker's home out from under them.
So how could someone possibly think they could get away with selling a house that clearly didn't belong to them?
INSIDE EDITION tried to talk to Tate about the shady deal.
Meagher asked Tate, "How did you think you could take somebody's home, a home that didn't belong to you and turn around and sell it?"
He didn't want to talk, saying, "I have no comment."
Prosecutor Kelly Walker found that the deed had been forged. Tate and Judd had targeted the Deckers' home because they thought it had been abandoned. They were busted on conspiracy charges and filing a false deed.
"They're just manipulating legal documents to try to gain something that they don't own. It's stealing something, plain and simple," said Walker.
The Deckers are now back in possession of their home. But they are still trying to sort out the mess the con-men caused.
Tom said, "The property is still not in our name, it is still owned by Mr. Judd, at least on paper. Everyone knows it's a fraudelent transaction."
Daniel Judd, the man who was living in the house, pled guilty and was sentenced to three months in jail. Ray Tate, the man who fraudulently sold the house, was found guilty. He was sentenced to five months behind bars.
According to the AARP, the best way to safeguard from losing your home in a scam like this is to check with the recorder's office from time to time to make sure that the deed's still in your name and that all signatures look legitamite. And if something does look a little fishy, it's important to contact the district attorney's office immediately.