One local family thought they'd found the perfect place to spend spring break, but when they got there, that dream vacation home wound up being a nightmare. After driving hours, they learned their rental was a hoax, and they were out thousands of dollars.
"It's incredibly frustrating," said Jennifer Schafer of Nashville. "It's embarrassment. It's frustration. It's anger. I honestly was caught completely off-guard."
Schafer was looking for a vacation from the cold Tennessee weather when she got on Craiglist and found a vacation rental home in sunny Sarasota with 5 bedrooms, 4 baths, a ballroom and a sunroom. Schafer said it all seemed so perfect. She contacted someone claiming to be the realtor and gave a $2,300 cashier's check to Wells Fargo.
When Schafer's family pulled up to the Westmoreland Drive home, the owner delivered the bad news.
"We called him," said Schafer. "He confirmed he'd never heard from us, had no clue who this realtor was, and we had been defrauded."
The listing still up, we contacted the same realtor with an interest in renting the home. While Schafer said the realtor hasn't responded to her calls and e-mails since she arrived in Florida, the realtor responded to us immediately, telling us to go through PayPal to cover a $500 security deposit and $300 a night.
When we told the realtor we were with Channel 4, the responses stopped.
"If that property is immediately available, high peak season, spring break or 4th of July, they're probably looking at a huge red flag," said Kathleen Calligan of the Better Business Bureau.
Officials with BBB advised to use only reputable sources, namely www.vrbo.com, where listings are carefully vetted and renters pay by credit card. They said Craigslist is an open marketplace with no filters. If you're going to rent a vacation home, they advise to always make sure you're speaking to the owner.
"You never pay by cash, cashier's check, green dot money card or PayPal," said Calligan. "It will reduce your ability to get your money back if you're dealing with a scam artist."
Despite struggling to get her money back through her bank's fraud department, Schafer said her family's still making the most of their Florida vacation and warning others not to fall into the same trap.
"It's not too shabby, but we're in a hotel room," said Schafer. "We could've been in a five bedroom, four bath home."
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