Rental warning for long and short term rentals

BODEGA BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- Bodega Bay is home to blue skies, beaches and breezes. It's a visitor's paradise, unless you're someone who paid to rent a home there that wasn't actually for rent, leaving you out of cash and with no place to stay.

"Terrible, they've been duped, nobody wants to feel that they've been duped," said Linda Gallanter.

The Gallanters own a second home in Bodega Bay for long weekends and lazy days with friends and family.

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They bought it in 2017 and suspect someone took photos of the house from a real estate website and created a Craigslist ad listing it as a vacation rental.

Sure enough, people who paid to stay at the home arrived at their doorstep.

"Showed me a receipt that they had for renting our house," said Sandy Gallanter.

But the couple has never rented their house.

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"They were of course very disappointed," said Sandy, referring to the family that showed up for their vacation.

The couple reached out to Craigslist.

"Craigslist got the message that they better take it down, so they did," said Linda Gallanter.

They also filed a report with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

"Most of the time the suspects are from out of the country," said Sgt. Spencer Crum.

According to Crum, the chances of finding whoever is responsible are "slim to none."

For those duped, the consequences can be far worse than a spoiled vacation.

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In June, ABC7 News told you about the Gonzales family who paid someone $10,000 to move into a South San Francisco home, not knowing that person was posing as the property owner.

When the real landlord found out, the family had to move out. For several days they lived in their van.

To protect yourself, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office recommends booking rentals through websites like VRBO or Airbnb since both parties, the lessor and lessee, are registered with the site.

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"If you want to do a Craigslist have them give you a list of the people that have rented from them before and get those reviews from people to make sure you're dealing with a credible source," suggested Crum.

ABC7 News Reporter Melanie Woodrow tried Sgt. Crum's suggestion. We found seven Bodgea Bay rentals on Craigslist. Two people responded to inquiries about their listings.

The property manager of the Petersen Dillon Beach House was willing to provide us with three references with phone numbers of guests who had previously rented the property. Two of the three people returned our call and even shared photos from their stay.

We received this email response to our inquiry about a different two story cottage for rent: "Good day sir/ma, yes, it's available, yes pets friendly, $145 per night, full refundable deposit $200, tax and cleaning fee $50, the payment option is Paypal or bitcoin, we also have a website for secure booking. Let me know if you are still interested. Thank you."

When we wrote back asking for the secure booking website and if it would be possible to talk on the phone about the rental, we never heard back.

The Gallanters have found their own way to keep their peace of mind when visiting Bodega Bay; signs on every entrance to their house that read in part, "This property is not for rent. You may have responded to an ad in Craigslist. You have been scammed, deceived, into prepaying rent for this property by criminals."

Craigslist did not respond to our media request for comment, but on its website lists tips for avoiding scams including to never wire funds or give out your financial information, never provide payment to someone you have not met in person and never rent sight-unseen. Craigslist also says be on the lookout for poor grammar or spelling in emails, requests for wired money, Paypal or cashier's checks and an inability or refusal to meet face-to face to complete the transaction."

Airbnb issued a statment saying, "We agree with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office sound advice, and the good news is all you need to do to protect yourself from scams is to stay on the Airbnb platform throughout the entire process -- from booking, to communicating, to payment. When you're on the Airbnb platform, you can rest assured that your account and personal information are protected and your payment is secure."

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