RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If you plan on renting a vacation home -- do your research! We talked to a family swindled out thousands of dollars.
The Goochland family says despite the red flags, they still felt safe -- now they hope their story will be a warning to others.
For Ruth and Pat Matthews, summer vacation homes are a tradition. This summer that tradition turned into a nightmare. Pat says, "We are out of about $4,500."
The plan was to rent a vacation home in Ocean City New Jersey -- the cost $2,000. Everything was done through the website Trip Advisor. The excitement was building, then came the email.
Pat says, "We got an email from Trip Advisor dot com saying that they think it was a fraud."By that time, they had already sent a check for $2,000. With that money lost, and not wanting to spoil their summer -- they spent an extra $2,500 for another vacation home.
Pat says, "We tracked down the real home owner of the house we were going to rent and he told us they had several people that were complaining; they either showed up at the house or somehow found out it was a scam."
The family showed us all the documentation: emails, a contract, and even a court document that appears to show the suspected scammer was accused in a real estate scam in Missouri.
They say contacting the police didn't help. Pat says, "All three police departments said that it was too small of a loss for them to waste tax-payers dollars to prosecute."
Goochland Sheriff's Investigator, Mike East, said the case involves at least three states -- a jurisdictional nightmare. Tracking the money and the people is complicated.
East says, "They have a network of people where the money will be funneled from one person to another person, to another person before it goes out of the country somewhere where the person eventually gets the money."
East says never send personal checks or wire money -- use reputable companies and do lots of research.
The Matthews won't stop renting vacation homes -- they say they will just be much more cautious.
Pat says, "We will do some investigative work on the Internet to make sure they haven't been arrested for real estate fraud in the past." The Matthews also say they will also be sure to make phone contact and not rely just on e-mail.
The family tells us they recently alerted the suspected criminals that they contacted police about the situation. They tell us they received an email back and told their money would be returned. They are still waiting on the money.
Here is some advice from the Better Business Bureau:
For consumers interested in booking a vacation rental property:
Some perks for vacationers include access to the amenities of a larger home such as a full kitchen, pool, and washer/dryer. Also, there is potential for higher occupancy rates with home rentals, so instead of booking multiple hotel rooms for larger groups, you can rent a larger property to stay together.