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Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

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Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

A growing number of visitors looking for fun in the Keys sun are finding that sometimes, there's a dark side to these islands: Increasingly, those who book vacation rentals listed on Web sites such as www.craigslist.com arrive here only to discover they've been scammed.

The problem is evidenced by three police reports filed just last week by out-of-towners showing up to check in to their rentals. The problem: The purported owners can't be found and, in one case, the visitors were directed to a non-existent Duval Street address.

Everett Smith, a property manager with Compass Realty who specializes in the vacation-rental-heavy Truman Annex neighborhood of Key West, said he started to notice problems in October. Since then, he said, things have gotten significantly worse.

"It started off with maybe one a month," Smith said, "and now it's maybe one a day or every other day. It's gotten ridiculous."

Smith went so far as to contact the Monroe County State Attorney's Office. Investigator Chris Weber acknowledged the problem but stopped short of saying there's an investigation under way.

"I will tell you that there seems to be a lot of fraud on Craigslist for rental property in the Keys," he said. "We're making every effort to combat it."

James Donelan of Warwick, R.I., showed up with two of his buddies for a tropical vacation on March 8. They planned a two-night stay at 506 Porter Lane, a three-bedroom in Truman Annex purchased by a Michigan man in 2005 for $1.45 million.

Donelan found the listing on Craigslist and booked it through e-mail with a couple calling themselves "Billy" and "Jocelyn." Using online money transferring provider PayPal, Donelan paid $582 with his credit card; PayPal subsequently sent him a receipt indicating a Mezei Zorad had received the money.

Asked if things seemed fishy at that point, Donelan, speaking from his home back in Rhode Island, said, "Not really. Not until I got down there."

When they got here, Donelan called "Billy," who said he'd meet their party at the rental to let them in. When "Billy" didn't show, Donelan called the police. The cops called "Billy" back and, according to a report, he said "he was coming with the key from Daytona."

In response, Officer Tiffini Miller "asked why he would rent a property to someone, but have the keys six hours away. 'Billy' then hung up on me. I called back and the phone continued to ring; no answer, no voicemail."

Fortunately, Donelan said, PayPal "reversed the charge" so he wasn't out any money. He and his friends were able to find lodging at the Parrot Key Hotel and Resort on North Roosevelt Boulevard, but the vacation wasn't without injury. "I think the worst part of this was my ego," he said. "My ego was definitely bruised."

On March 7, 19-year-old Jennifer Gradolf came from Ormond Beach to check in to a rental at 109 Front St., the Harbour Place Condominiums in Truman Annex.

She told police she used PayPal to transmit $870 for a three-night stay. The receipt she got showed a Warrack Wong received the payment; the contact person she had been e-mailing with used the name "Smith."

And, like Donelan, when she got here, there was no rental agent to be found. She, too, called city police.

While Gradolf was talking with police, the filed report states, a Truman Annex security guard came up and said "this was the third time in a week that an incident similar to this had occurred" at the Front Street address.

Also on March 7, Stephen Bleiler of Cloud, Mich., came to Key West looking for a rental he found on Craigslist and paid $750 through PayPal. He quickly figured out that the address of the alleged rental, 1216 Duval St., is a vacant lot.

Smith, the property manager, said his office tries to help scam victims find other lodging on the island. "The whole staff is aware of the problem," he said. "The association at Truman Annex is aware that it's going on. We're trying to police it but it's hard to have the manpower to do that every day."

Central PA
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1. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Not doing your homework...priceless.

Hey, at least they used PayPal and not Western Union money transfer, of which there's is no way to get your money back....or traced for that matter.

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2. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

When we initially started looking for places to stay in KW this March, we did the usual CL searching too. We found many listing to be obviously bogus and after responding to some, and finding out their address/pictures didn't match up, we would flag the ad. We would email back and forth several times as I would ask specific location questions and still could not get a phone number to actually talk to the owner of the unit.

Some would list the unit as '' ocean front indoor pool on Duval. Not too many places that I'm aware of to meet that description.

Some ads were easily recognized as bogus, others were harder to tell. Most of the time it seemed if they didn't put pictures , the address and a phone number, we almost immediately noted these as bogus.

San Francisco...
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3. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

I answered several ads, and noticed in two that the address was the same, so I went to Google maps and the 3Br with pool for $200.00 per night was a Circle-K convenience store (1075 Duval). Another, 912 Truman, claimed a pool, and the photos showed a pool right out the living room window. Google maps showed a house with lots of trees, very unlike the treeless view of the pool in the pix.

The key is that if a location is asking for a lot of money up front, even via PayPal, it's likely a scam. Reputable places will ask for a smaller deposit, or at least take a credit card.

In my case, I went to PayPal right away, and the funds got put on hold until the matter was resolved. The poor old lady who got the money was told by her "friend" that someone was sending him money to help him move, and when she saw the money appear in her account, she wrote him a check.

I followed his it address and found he is a truck driver living in Montana.

I'm just glad i wasn't standing at the airport waiting for the "rental agent" to pick me up when I figured it out...

New Hudson
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4. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Hey I just sent a deposit to rent 912 Truman at the end of October. Do you know for sure that this is a scam? They had me pay my deposit via paypal then a few days later asked me to reuest a refund siting fraud. Paypal ultimately denied the refund. I used my American Express to pay paypal with.

St. Louis
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5. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Rule #1. Don't do ANY vacation transactions from Craigslist.....

San Diego...
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6. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

There are a lot of verifiable professional rental companies in KW that have been established a long time. Best to use one of these companies rather then going near Craigslist.

Marathon, Florida
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7. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Amex should be able to help you out.

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8. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Say I am looking at same property for next May; is your contact Geron Michael? He sent rental agreement with title Secured Vacation Homes. He also refered me to property search site where he is listed as owner of property with their home address in NJ. Please let me know what you have determined.

KW address 912 Truman Ave; unit #2

New Hudson
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9. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

Stay clear of this property and Geron, he is a scammer that will take your money!!!!!

Without going into too much detail, Geron took my deposit via paypal, then 2 weeks later asked me to request a refund because he was having trouble with his account. PayPal denied the refund. He told me they didn't and said once I get my refund, resend it again with wire transfer. Wire Transfer has no recourse. PayPal has no recourse either for a service or non-tangible item, so be very careful. I had to get Amex involved to get my money back but that could take 6-8 weeks, thank god I used Amex! Geron had a title with Vacation Homes Property on my stuff. I even went so far as to call the Key West City Offices and to verify ownership. The owner at the city is Michael Geron an attorney and president f the homeowners association. It all look good so I went forward, now I'm sorry. This was definately too good to be true. Also on a side note, Geron's english is so bad or rather his accent is so thick, he is impossible to talk to on the phone.Seriously, there are thousands of places on KW, pick another one to be safe.

Frozen North
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10. Re: Good article on potential rental scams frm Keysnews.

I guess I am safe, since I rented with Everett Smith in the article. But I have to say, my friend rented with someone who posts on Craiglist, and I have actually done this also. Both being legitimate. So it is a shame that these scammers are ruining it for the people who are renting their place legitimately. Their should be a way for people to verify themselves, I know E-Bay has their own buyer protection, and I thought they used Verisign, but maybe I am wrong.