We have been trying to find a house to rent in Ocean City. NJ, and given how late we are trying to do so, there are not many houses available.
Our first stop was good old VRBO, which we have had great luck with before. We found one that was available but when we contacted the owner, he replied that he had just sent out a contract earlier in the week, and would be updating the web site soon.
We then went to the web sites of the various real estate firms in Ocean City, and we found a few that seemed reasonable. We contacted the realtors to get additional details, and we then shared that info with the other family that will be joining us on vacation. We agreed on a couple of them, but then by the time we contacted the realtors the next day, the two houses we liked were gone.
So then today I decided to try Craigslist. I found a few homes that potentially met our needs, so I sent each of them an email.
I heard back from a couple of the owners, but one of the houses looked quite appealing. After exchanging a few emails, we told the owner we were interested in renting the house, and to send us the paperwork.
I then received the contract, printed it out, filled it out, but something just didn’t seem quite right. My wife had been concerned from the very start about using Craigslist, and so I wanted to be as sure as I could that everything was legitimate, particularly before I sent in my $2,000 deposit by bank transfer…
When we started looking back at the emails, and looking at the contract in more detail, we became quite suspicious. The emails were not well written, and almost seemed of the type you might find in a typical email fraud campaign.
And the contract was odd in that it said the check-in time was 10:00 am on the morning of our arrival, but checkout time was 4:00 pm on our last day. Most rentals are the exact opposite. The contract also said that they would provide the linens; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a vacation home rental where the owner provides the linens.
But what really convinced us that the Craigslist ad was fraudulent was when we googled the home address that appeared on the contract, and lo and behold, we found the house also listed on VRBO. However, the dates we wanted were listed as not available on VRBO.
While it seemed as if the Craigslist ad just copied all the info, including the pictures, about the house from VRBO, it appeared to have messed up on the linens situation, since the VRBO ad clearly states that the guests provide their own linens.
The contract had five people listed as co-owners, so I started googling the names. Two of them were listed as owners of the house on whitepages.com, but I could not find any info about the other three owners, one of which was the name of the person I had been exchanging emails with.
So at this point I decided to call the owner’s number listed on VRBO and ask them if they had also placed an ad on Craigslist, and if so, were they the ones I had been in contact with via email during the day.
As of the time of this writing, I had not received a response, so as one last check I decided to send an email via VRBO to the owner. At this point, all I have received was an auto-reply, but it did provide one more key piece of info to confirm our suspicions – the owners’ names included in the VRBO auto-reply are not the same as the names included in the contract sent via Craigslist.
While I wish I had heard back from the VRBO owners so that I could confirm that the Craigslist ad was a scam before I posted this, I am 99% sure, so I figured I would use this post as is, with a disclaimer that I could be completely wrong on this one.
Once I hear back from VRBO, I will provide a brief follow-up.
In the meantime, while Craigslist provides a valuable service, I guess you’ve got to tread with caution.
As we teach in accounting – trust, but verify.