As the weather warms up many people want to head to the beach, so they start surfing the web to find the best deals on rental properties, but beware. Some of those ads may be schemes that could burn a hole in your wallet.
Johnathan Davis is a high school senior who was planning his last Spring break before he goes into the Army. He say found an ad on Craig's List in December that seemed like a good deal for renting a Panama City Beach house, but it left him and his friends without a place to stay and a loss of nearly $400.
What he did not know at the time was the Craig's List ad is fake, copied from a secure website, VRBO.com. This is the only place the real owner says she lists her house for rent.
Davis says, "me and my friends got together, paid the money, and we got down there and somebody else was renting it. So that's when we realized it was all a scam and a hoax."
He tells the Butler County Sheriff he talked to the person who posted the Craig's List ad by email, text, and phone calls until the day before the beach trip, and did not think anything seemed suspicious, "Even his email he sent me said vacation rental agent. But I think the best thing I can do is say stay off Craig's List," says Davis.
Sheriff Kenny Harden agrees with Davis, "The man told him to send it Western Union, and when you go sending money by Western Union and if you give them the code or anything on picking the money up, then they can pick it up anywhere in the world. And that should have been a factor for them to look at and say, 'hey something's not right about this.'"
The real owner of the property, Amy Shoemaker, says she was shocked to find out that photos of her house were being used, "I felt very violated, but you know, also I felt terrible for the young man because he didn't know, and then I felt responsible when I fell victim to it as well because they used my property as bait for him."
The sheriff says they get several reports of this type of internet theft each month, and there is little that can be done because it is difficult to find the thieves and the money crosses state lines.