BEWARE – Panama City Beach Rentals Craigslist Scam

by July 9, 2013 • 22 comments
BEWARE – Panama City Beach Rentals Craigslist Scam

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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1 Bill July 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

Jason, thank you for making us aware of this scam. I own a condo in PCB and rent it myself via vrbo and homeaway, therefore I hate to hear that some crooks are using other peoples property for personal gain. Several years ago, I had a local (local to PCB & Destin) management company rent my condo out without my consent (long story but they stole rent from me). I have to admit that I never look at Craigs List, so I am somewhat “out of the loop” as to what Craigs List offers. I have some concerns about what you are telling people in item “3 – Only pay with a major credit card over the phone”. PayPal is a great service for those of us that only have one condo to rent. Plus there are lots of legitimate merchants world wide that use PayPal. By using PayPal, I never have to see, or handle, an individuals credit card number, which should give the renter some “peace of mind” that I am not going to steal their credit card info. I have found that PayPal is faster than using the credit card service offered by vrbo and homeaway. I have a lot of guest that prefer to pay with a personal check or money order. As the condo owner, when I accept a personal check, I am the one taking on the risk. I do provide a toll free telephone number on my listings (which is also used by my everyday business), but prefer e-mail because me and the potential guest can maintain a written record of our conversation. Also, owners need to “vet” potential guest as much as the guest needs to “vet” the owner. Renting real estate is a two way street. Anyway……thanks again for the info, but not sure we need to tell people that giving a credit card number over the telephone to a total stranger is the only way to pay to keep from being scammed. Keep us the good work!

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2 Jason Koertge July 15, 2013 at 10:47 am

Hey Bill, I absolutely understand. I’ve been using PayPal for years, started on eBay and have used it to accept payment for all sorts of things (including our rental business).

I added a couple side notes to offer clarification in the article as this was in no way intended to completely scare people away from PayPal. I merely intended for it to serve as a red flag.

If you’re renting a property, and some things feel weird, and PayPal is all they accept, as a renter, you should put more effort into vetting the property, that’s all I meant.

As far as “vetting” the guest – believe you me, I understand that. We screen our guests very carefully and we still run into issues from time to time. I swear it feels like once a week (we have 70 units) we get someone that’s just plain obstreperous about something seemingly insignificant.

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3 Linda Nordlund July 11, 2013 at 9:26 am

Very informative, but I use PayPal all the time and would not consider that a red flag. PayPal usually favors the buyer if there is a complaint, so PayPal is a legit way to pay. If there is no account for paypal, a credit card can still be used through them.

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4 Cathy July 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

Jason, thank you so very much for posting this. I only wish there was a way to post it in newspapers in all states. I may just copy-paste it on my Facebook page & see if others pass this information around…..I believe it is well worth it.
I have never used Craigslist for finding vacation rentals….I have however used this list to post items for sale here recently. After my own experience I will not use this web-site again. I was sent many emails that after reading them you know they were from serious people. Rule of thumb: If things do not sound right, there is a good chance they aren’t.
I have used VRBO.com for many many years and have never had any problems with acquiring a vacation rental. I wait until I receive their email concerning the rental property to see how they word their response to me….if in any way it seems short, snippy or has off-base comments I pass on the unit. Through out the years I have received many beautiful emails from owners and you can tell right off they “love” their unit and want you also to love it & be a return renter. They make you feel special, they tell wonderful things about their unit & provide you with up to date photos. In other words they make you feel special! Emails are great but, actually calling the owner for a chat is much better…..you should feel comfy, informed & good when you hang up the telephone & good to send your money to them. It is a shame some are taken in by these scam artist but, it happens. Passing around this information will at least let readers have the knowledge of what’s out there & to be more alert to this when renting & sending their hard earned money.
Thanks again,
Cathy/Tennessee

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5 Kyra Edwards July 12, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I work in Property Management and we have this happen on our rental home ads. One bit of advice that’s helped us is having a watermark on our photos with our particular website address and phone number. When a different web address/email/phone number are listed in the ad, most prospects see the differences and it alerts them a bit more, often times leading them to call the number or visit the real website, verifying the “Too good to be true” rate, finding that we’ve already rented it and that this is a scam, but happy that they had some more obvious signs to assist them. Just a suggestion for you, as these watermarks also make your ads less desirable to copy.

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6 Larry Cecchini July 12, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Jason – Please stop adding to the paranoia! I rent my condo through VRBO on my own, and use PayPal as my main conduit for online payments. To blanketly make a statement that anyone using PayPal is someone who should be suspect of illegal renting activities is totally irresponsible and damaging to my future rental propsects. I am simply an honest, straight forward property owner that uses PayPal as my preferred payment method, please don’t lump me in with other illegal activities that may be happening, regardless of who is taking the payment. Do you really think if I use PayPal that people are any safer to the risk of on-line payments then if they used PayPal? If you do then you are very ignorant as to what the true security issues are. As an IT Sr. Executive with a Fortune 100 company, I can assure you that you are wrong in assuming that anything done with PayPal is a sign there is something shady going on. I would ask that you rescind that comment. If you would like to discuss further, call me at 651-503-3613. And for people looking to rent condo 1502 at Emerald Isle in PCB, please have no worries in renting from me just because I use PayPal as my payment vendor. I will stand behind any contract we sign, unlike Jason who gets to make any staements he wants without any ramifications. Totally disappointed Jason, I have followed this blog for years and this I could not believe what was reading. My guess is that you won’t allow this to be posted, but I felt pretty strongly that you had to hear this at least.

Larry Cecchini
Emerald Isle 1502
emeraldisle1502@gmail.com
651-503-3613

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7 Jason Koertge July 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

Not adding to the paranoia Larry. This had to be done. I’ve gotten calls from over 50 guests this summer who have been scammed by con artists.

I did update some text to emphasize that the PayPal payment is only intended to be a red flag that should underscore the need for more information.

Larry, you’re doing what you should in meeting everyone in the middle in making sure they can feel assured that you are legitimate.

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8 Nancy Thompson July 15, 2013 at 12:28 am

Jason, Thank you for posting this! Yes I have looked and called a few on craigslist. I had 2 that didn’t want to give a phone number, one did have my number and called me one day but said he wouldn’t be able to call me back, only wanted me talking to them with email. Very nice condos that rent for $700 a week for a 2-3 bedroom 3 bath in the middle of June and pay with PayPal. I was booking for 3 different family’s at 3 different times and every week was open! They was going to meet me at the condo with the keys. I even made phone calls to PC to check the people out and called one of the places and found out that the place didn’t have as many room as I was told.. One of the places he had was at Edgewater and when I ask him for the address he give me a address for a fast food, said he just got his number wrong..I found out that the men did not own any condos and when I started asking alot of questions they never email me back. This is good info and I wish we could get it on face book.

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9 Monica July 17, 2013 at 2:55 am

Anyone have any ideas on how to scam a scammer? he has SO many fake listings on CL right now. I’ll at least go back and forth with emails and waste as much time as possible while using the same broken English as he.

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11 スタンドカラージャケット 豪華 January 1, 2014 at 3:32 am

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inspiring. Keep on posting!

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12 Verla January 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about panama city beach craigslist
scams. Regards

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13 Jack January 19, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Jason, I am so happy someone is watching for scammers. My wife and I have been looking for a beach house rental for are family vacation. we were having trouble finding a house large enough for 15 which included are children and grandchildren on the dates we needed. After exhausting are search on VRBO we tried craigslist. Of course we found a rental on the beach for a great price. We contacted who we thought was the owner for info. He was very convincing and sent us a copy of his drivers license and a deed of ownership with address of the property on it. Still being sceptical we contacted a realtor that we knew to check on the tax records. Sure enough it was not legit. Luckly no monies were exchanged. The property was for sale and all the info. He used was off the listing. We are from Illinois and I can’t imagine what we would of done if we have showed up with out a place to stay. So once again thank you for keeping people aware of the rental scams that are out there.

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15 Tricia April 7, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Needless to say, bummed out in Florida . I left my job in Kentucky as a relief . I am a traveling missionary and was seeking opportunities here. I answered an ad for a beautiful townhouse on the Lagoon. My new roommate which I would be sharing rent with offered to pick me up in Fort Walton at the greyhound station. I get in this car that has a smell kind of like the man himself. ( description is not to be judgemental) I then get to this beautiful place, not!!!!! It was not a townhouse on the Lagoon. It was a trailer house on a swamp. I walked in and there was also a smell that was unbearable. Not only did I leave my job but, I left my housing. I was very disgusted in this matter and now really have no where to go in Florida.:(I have all the original adds and pictures that were posted and really wonder if this is a fraud situation? I am still searching for work here but, feeling hopeless that., I. Am unsure what to do about affordable. Housing????

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17 BIG SMITH June 21, 2014 at 11:09 pm

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18 JP Jennings July 4, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Thank you for a great article.

On a similar note, do you know how we can report condo owners that are not remitting the tax on the condo rental to the state and local authorities?

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19 Linda July 4, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Just curious how you would know that they are not submitting the taxes? If they are not charging you, they could be paying the taxes themselves. I will do this on my weekly rentals.

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20 JP Jennings July 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm

They didn’t even know what the tax rate was so if they don’t know what the tax rate was how could they remit it ?

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21 Linda July 4, 2014 at 8:35 pm

well, you got me on that one.

22 tiffany July 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

We were a victim we have a money gram with his name on it

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