BEWARE – Panama City Beach Rentals Craigslist Scam

by July 9, 2013 • 29 comments

Craigslist scams were something I once regarded as a mythical event often heard about, but never seen. However, right now, as we speak, there are several vacation rental scam postings for Panama City Beach on Craigslist currently taking thousands of dollars from potential guests, tarnishing our image in Panama City Beach as a safe destination, ruining vacations and causing harm to the integrity of credible locals. In this post, we’re going to talk about what to look for in a scam posting, share some links of definite scams and possible scams and talk about how you can prevent being scammed yourself.

I know, I know. I’ve been very MIA for the last few months. I’ll address that in another post later on, which will share what I’ve been up to and where we’re going with PCBDaily in the future. But today, I wanted to talk about something very important that has been affecting our Panama City Beach Vacation Rental company the last several weeks.

What some of the scams look like.

The particular property of ours that is being used for their scam is one of our Penthouse condos. It’s attractive for the scammer to use because it’s large, very desirable and would be considered an easy rent if put at a low price (half what we actually charge). This particular property has been booked through October for months, and since availability is tight this summer, an open property is very alluring to potential guests.

Here is this property’s page on our website.

When I was originally authoring this post, I was planning to link to the scammers post on Craigslist, but it has finally been removed. If it comes back up again, I’ll post a link so you can help us click Prohibited.

In the scam listing, they just copied our text and used it verbatim in addition to using our pictures. All of it they got right from our website.

In the listing, they provide no contact information, just the ability for the potential guest to send an email to the person who listed it (1st red flag).

When you reply to the listing, you’ll get an email from the scammer usually within a few hours stating the property is available, even though it’s July (2nd red flag).

When you inquire for more information, they’ll provide you with very little and when you ask for a phone number, they’ll either give you a Skype number or an obscure US number or they’ll offer no number at all (3rd red flag). And if you get them on the phone, they’ll likely sound foreign. Numerous victims have told us this particular scammer is from Australia.

In addition, this particular scammer is actually using my first and last name on his fabricated rental agreement and has told some, via email, that they are me.

If you decide to rent the property, they’ll want deposit payment through PayPal (4th red flag). They will send you a PayPal invoice and you’ll pay them that way. I’m not completely certain of the international security of PayPal so I’m not sure how they are getting away with this, but this is how they are doing it.

Side note: I’ve had several mention that they use PayPal as a means of accepting payment.  I want to stress that if someone wants you to pay with PayPal, that shouldn’t be an immediate reason to run away.  However, it should be a flag for you to ask more questions and make a greater attempt to validate the rental property and the person renting the property.   

Other ways I’ve identified suspected scam postings is by looking at listings for condos in resorts that I know do not allow dogs or cats (most of them) as regulated by their HOA. All of the scam postings I have found, the scammer states that dogs or cats are ok. This is an extra check-box you have to check when you put up the listing. They are checking this box intentionally in hopes of luring a greater number of people into their trap.

Things you can do to prevent being a victim.

First off, anything you find on Craigslist for rent, please proceed with absolute and complete caution. There are things you can do to protect yourself.

1 – Ask for a phone number and talk to them.

There are some legitimate people trying to rent their property on Craigslist, and those people will be willing to talk to you over the phone to rent their property. Ask for a phone number and call them. Ask them questions about the property, ask them about the area, and get a feel for who they are. A good way to figure out if they are legitimate is ask them questions about the area only a local or someone who travels to the area frequently would know.

2 – Ask for references.

We are a member of the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce. Anyone can call them and verify our membership. They can call the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and verify our business that way.

Additionally, if you’re talking to someone about their property, ask them for other local business or personal references. It’s important to ask them for local references that have a local phone number (850). The more well known the references the better.

I know or know of most businesses in the area and I have a vast, deep network of acquaintances in Panama City Beach. If you are having trouble vetting a rental, just call me anytime and I’d be glad to help.

3 – Only pay with a major credit card over the phone.

Lastly, use the protection that likely comes with your major credit card. Issuers like Discover and American Express are widely accepted and offer unparalleled consumer protection if something goes afoul. Additionally, a scammer will not be able to take your credit card payment as they don’t have a US merchant account because it would provide a clear paper trail back to them. If they demand payment via PayPal, Money Order or Cashier’s Check, run away and keep looking.

I understand some individual property owners may not be able to accept credit cards, and this will affect them negatively, but this is one of the important safeguards that you as a consumer should hold dear and not go beyond the protection of.

Side note 2: I understand your comments in that as an individual property owner, PayPal is one of the easiest ways to accept credit cards or online payments.  Again, this isn’t meant to affect you in a negative way.  But, as a consumer, the safest way to pay would be to use your major credit card since you are likely to be able to dispute the charges if something goes afoul. 

For those that have found the perfect place and PayPal is the only way you can pay for it – ask lots of questions, do everything mentioned here to validate the property and the person renting it, listen to your gut, and you should be just fine. 

What you can do to help.

The only way to stop the scammers from posting in our area is to become such a pain in the butt that it’s not worth their hassle anymore. Craigslist will automatically remove a posting if it is flagged enough times. You can flag a listing by clicking on the Prohibited link at the top.

I have an account at IFTTT.com (free), which is an if/then website that will take an action (something that happens) and create a trigger (do something based on that action). I have a “recipe” created that will send me a text alert whenever a new posting is put up on Craigslist based on specifications that I defined.

Here is a link to my recipe – you can click on it, create a free account and activate the recipee to get the alerts as well.

IFTTT.com/recipes/103256

 

Whenever you get an alert, just click on the link, and if it has “P C B L P Penthouse” in it, then it’s a scam – click Prohibited.  This is one of my properties that is regularly being used in this scam.

Additionally, you can post links to other listings that come up that you suspect are scams in the comment section of this post and we can all look at them and decide together if they are scams.

If you’re a property manager or property owner, regularly check Craigslist for your properties.  Setup a few search alerts through IFTTT and watch diligently.  Additionally, if you have a property that has been used as a scam, take the headline of that scam listing and use it to create your own listing with “BEWARE” or “SCAM” at the beginning.  Then explain in the listing what is going on, that it is a scam and who to contact directly for questions (provide phone number).

Please watch Craigslist for scams, please help us shut these scammers out and please be careful if you are trying to rent through Craigslist.

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