A warning for those searching the Internet for Jersey Shore homes to rent this summer. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Police say scam artists are copying legitimate on-line listings but then offering fake prices in an attempt to get victims to pay deposits.
One phony ad was recently posted on Craigslist. It’s a nearly 1200 square foot home in Beach Haven available for rent for the summer for just $150 a night. It turns out however that the house is actually 400 square feet and isn’t available for rent.
“It’s awful,” said Marlene Romanowski, a real estate manager at Van Dyk Group Inc. “I think you just have to be careful all the time no matter what you’re doing on the Internet.”
Romanowski says the house is legitimately listed for sale by Van Dyk but the scam artist copied the photos and description for the phony rental ad. Police say similar scams on Craigslist have popped up in the past few months in Harvey Cedars and Long Beach Township. Investigators say the scam artists tell their victims to wire a deposit to what’s really a foreign bank account.
“If you make contact with the people who are listing the property, ask them specific questions about the house,” said Long Beach Township Police Lieutenant Chuck Schnell. “Ask them what restaurants are in the area. If they can’t answer those types of questions for you, odds are it’s probably a scam.”
While police say they haven’t yet heard from any victims, they also haven’t had any luck so far tracking down the scam artists.
“The problem is with computers these days it’s easy to bounce email addresses with different addresses,” Schnell said. “Same thing with cell phone numbers. It’s tough to bounce them back to follow them up to find out who it’s actually connected to.”
Police are urging owners to check the Internet to see if their homes are featured in fraudulent ads. Officials also say other signs of phony listings are grammatical errors as well as rental rates inconsistent with other local properties.
“If somebody’s looking to rent on Long Beach Island, your best bet is to go through a licensed real estate office,” Schnell said.
As for the bogus listing for the Beach Haven home, Romanowski says it’s no longer on the Internet.
“Craigslist can be a wonderful thing,” she said. “Unfortunately anybody can get onto it.”