A WOMAN who fell victim to a holiday home scam has warned of how sincere and believable the advertiser was during her ordeal.
Helen Hancock believed she was renting a stunning house in Bunbeg for two weeks in the summer and handed over a £250 deposit only to find out it was a scam.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Helen said she came across the house on Facebook Marketplace about six weeks ago and thought it was a great deal for £500 per week.
She got in touch with the advertiser who responded quickly and after a half hour conversation she believed all was above board. She even shared the advertisement with her cousin who also lost £250 to the scam.
“He was so clever with his frequent correspondence and reassurance,” said Helen.
“He vetted me and he was very thorough in making sure I wasn’t a teenager coming to trash the place.
“He knew the local area and the bars very well. He was very considerate to find out if I needed anything. I was on the phone to him for half an hour. He was really lovely and so sincere. It is unbelievable.”
The man claimed the house was on the Strand Road in Bunbeg and requested Helen meet him on two occasions at the local pub to view the house but did not show up providing an excuse that his partner’s sister broke her leg in a quad accident.
Alarm bells started to go off when Helen asked around the area and no one was aware of the house.
After the second no-show the advertiser changed his name on Facebook and blocked Helen from finding him on Marketplace. Helen later discovered the house does in fact exist but it is in Rossnowlagh.
The incident has been reported to the Gardai.
Helen, who is originally from outside Raphoe but now lives inNorthern Ireland, posted on her Facebook Page about her experience and was shocked to receive messages from others saying the same thing has happened to them. She said some people that have been in touch were due to spend the Easter holidays at the house and were unaware that it was a scam.
Unfortunately because she paid the deposit through PayPal’s family and friends option she is not able to get the money back.
Aaccommodation fraud rose by 30 per cent last year with 279 incidents reported nationally.
“An Garda Síochána is warning people to be extra vigilant when looking for accommodation, particularly now at a time when society and foreign travel has opened up again,” said Sergeant Charlene Anderson.
“Successful accommodation fraudsters convince their targets, from the young to the middle-aged, to pay a deposit, and sometimes even rent in advance, for accommodation that either doesn’t exist or does exist but isn’t for rent leaving them stranded and out of pocket.”
Sgt Anderson said some of the red flags to look out for include the rent being too good to be true; the listing contains grammar or spelling mistakes and is on social media; all communication is only via WhatsApp or social media; the landlord says they are away and can’t meet you to show you the accommodation; payment is requested immediately before signing a lease and the payment is requested in cash/PayPal/wire transfer/iTunes gift cards/ cryptocurrency.
She advised only using trusted money transfer systems such as credit cards and use a booking agent or hotel website directly or make sure any third-party websites are secure.
“Now that society has reopened, there are more opportunities for fraudsters to strike,” said Sgt Anderson.
“We would advise people to be extra vigilant to avoid becoming a target of accommodation fraud. Trust your instincts and if the offer sounds too good to be true then it probably is.”