MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – One man is speaking out after losing nearly $1,200 on a fake Myrtle Beach rental listing.
It was supposed to be the perfect family vacation.
Jesse Stevens, of Hickory, North Carolina, found a great deal on a condo rental for him and his family.
The Craigslist page advertised a spacious three-bedroom unit, boasting oceanfront views and heated pools right on Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard.
And at a very reasonable 200 bucks a night, it was a deal that Stevens couldn’t pass up. So he contacted the woman who posted the listing on Craigslist.
“I got a prompt response,” Stevens remembered. “The whole process seemed legitimate. I mean there were forms to fill out and a rental agreement to sign.”
He signed all the paperwork and sent over the $1,138 bill with a bank transfer. Stevens said that he found the bank transfer odd, but the frequent communication between him and the lister put him at ease.
“Speaking to somebody was the thing that helped alleviate any of my concerns,” he said.
The woman told him to simply show up to the Island Vista Resort in Myrtle Beach, and she would meet them there to personally check him and his family in.
But that’s not what happened in the end.
“She never showed up,” Stevens said. “I tried texting. I tried calling several times. And then that’s when it was pretty much radio silence. No answer at all.”
That’s when he realized he was the victim of a rental scam.
“The owner of the condo wasn’t behind the rental process,” he said. “It was someone else basically stealing their property and selling it as their own.”
He was out over a thousand dollars and had to think fast to find somewhere else to stay.
As shocking as it was for Stevens, he is not the only person who’s had an experience like this.
In fact, the Better Business Bureau says that this type of scheme is on their radar, and they hear similar reports happening nationwide.
“People need to remember that the scammer wants your money and they want it quick,” Renee Wikstrom said. She’s the Director of Communications for the Coastal Carolina BBB.
And although she says scammers are getting more advanced all the time, there are several red flags travelers can watch for to stay safe when renting over the web.
“If they ask you to send a prepaid card, send cash, that sort of thing. Huge red flag. Don’t do it,” she said. “Ask for the contract up front, before you ever send any money. If they don’t send you a contract, another red flag. If they do send a contract, look at the grammar, the spelling. Look and see if it’s legitimate.”
She also recommends that travelers use their credit cards to pay whenever possible.
“Your credit card gives you security,” Wikstrom said. “You may not get all of the money back, but usually you’re going to get your money back.”
There are also precautions that property owners can take to avoid fraud, Wikstrom says.
“Check the other sites that do have ads on there and if you see your listing, call that publication or listing,” she said. “Say ‘Hey, I didn’t place this ad.’ Most of the time, they’re going to take that ad down.”
The Island Vista Condo offered this statement regarding the situation:
“Cybercrime and identity theft are unfortunately in the news every day, and victims include not only the person who lost the money, but the named business as well. Of course, the Island Vista has no part in any such event, and in fact promotes the highest security available for both merchant and customer when performing any transaction. An attempt to defraud can be as simple as copying pictures from a given website, then posing as the business on a variety of social media, and to the unsuspecting individual, it can appear very real. I think the best deterrent, especially in the accommodations/resort industry, is to call the hotel direct whenever you have questions or plan vacation dates, and especially if you see a deal on a site other than the valid website of the property. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Those words of advice are echoed in Stevens’ warning for fellow vacationers.
“Just really be cautious,” he said. “Be careful. Because the individuals out there are being more crafty and cunning and better at what they do.”