A Pasadena couple had planned a relaxing week at the beach to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. They signed a short-term rental agreement, paid their balance, but after arriving at the rental unit in Ocean City they quickly learned something was wrong.
“The property they were going to use for the week was actually in use by a full-time resident,” said Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland.
This is the second complaint in as many months the BBB serving Greater Maryland has received about rental fraud in Ocean City.
The couple was told their reservation at Sandpiper Dunes was fake and that the people they had rented the unit from, “John and Cheryl Miller Rentals,” duped another couple the week before.
“A scam artist is going to be really clear and tell you this is the place you’re going to go and we’ll make arrangements for a key swap, which leads you to believe it’s all legit because there’s so much detail put into this scam,” said Barnett.
The Craigslist listing came with a short-term rental agreement, the couple spoke to the renters three separate times on the phone, and went back and forth on email a number of times. Even so, they lost more than a thousand dollars.
“You’re standing at that doorway and there is no recourse for that feeling of I’m stranded, I have no place to stay, and if I go and find a place last minute it’s going to cost triple,” Barnett said.
The Ocean City Police Department has received 94 reports of rental fraud since 2011, 20 of which were in 2017. And 86 percent of those cases originated on Craigslist.
“[Scammers] literally troll the internet and find photos from people who really have vacation rentals, people who have real homes for sale, and they lift those pictures. They cut copy and paste and put into their own website or put into their one Craigslist posting,” said Barnett.
Tips to avoid becoming the victim of a rental scam:
- If the price is too good to be true and significantly more inexpensive that comparable units, it is likely a scam.
- Always use a reputable rental agent or trusted online site. Be cautious of ads on classified ad sites, such as Craigslist.
- Do a reverse Google Image search to see if the photos on the listing are posted anywhere else.
- Poor grammar and spelling errors in either the rental ad or communication with the supposed owner of the unit should raise red flags for would-be renters.
- Never pay using a wire transfer or pre-paid debit card, such as MoneyGram or Green Dot cards. If you use a credit card, you can file a dispute if something goes wrong.
- Do your research! Google the phone number associated with the ad to ensure it matches that of a reputable rental agent. Look up the address on Google Maps Street View to ensure the photos provided match what is seen on the map.
If you believe that you were scammed, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.