5 On Your Side

Durham woman warns of vacation rental scam

Posted September 29, 2009 5:22 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2009 6:43 p.m. EDT

— Jessica Santel, of Durham, was excited when she found a Topsail Beach rental home on Craigslist. It was perfect for next year's vacation with a large group of family and friends.

The rental was priced at $4,500 for the week – thousands less than any similar beach house.

Santel e-mailed the person who claimed to be the owner, who sent pictures and asked her to wire a payment or send a certified check. But then Santel remembered seeing one of the photos on another Web site.

“I thought this is a total scam. It's a complete scam,” Santel said.

Santel was right. So, she got back on the Internet and found the real owner, Jerry Jongerius, in Maryland. She was the third person to call him.

“We got a phone call from a Tim in Indiana, who said he wanted a receipt for his payment for our rental property. And we had no idea what he was talking about because we had never rented our property to Tim. So that was the start of the entire process of realizing something's very wrong,” Jongerius said.

The scammer had copied the pictures and text from Jongerius's Web site and created the advertisement on Craigslist. Jongerius also found the person had listed some of his other properties as well.

“You feel absolutely horrible,” Jongerius said. “Here is this individual taking rent money for properties that they know they do not own. They're your properties.”

Santel said she really only wanted to pay $5,000 to rent Jongerius’s home, but the home actually rents for $13,000.

Jongerius gave Santel and her friends a discount so they could rent the house. Santel said the real owners wanted to help because of her efforts to get the word out about the scammers.

Some things to look out for when renting a home:

  • Large deposits required long before the rental. Half the rental amount at the time of booking is usually the norm.
  • A demand that you wire that money or send a certified check.
  • Watch out for a contract that doesn't have basic information, such as the address of the home.
  • Beware when the phone number goes directly to a messaging service.

Craigslist does post a general fraud warning. They did not respond to 5 on Your Side's request for more information.

Tim in Indiana got his money back because an alert banker caught the transaction.