Santa Cruz officials warn about vacation rental scam

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Are you planning on booking a summer vacation rental? ABC7 News has a cautionary tale to keep you from getting scammed. It's happening a lot to people who think they've found the perfect spot for their family, only to have their vacation ruined.

A gorgeous oceanfront home for just over $200 a night. It sounds too good to be true. Yet people have been coming to a Santa Cruz home on West Cliff Drive anyway, having wired money ahead of time.

"It's hard for me," said tenant Stephanie. "Telling them that, you know, you can't rent this place."

Stephanie has been living at the house for three years, and has repeatedly broken the news that the house is not a vacation rental.

"The last family that showed up they had four kids, I think, and it was three dogs and two big trucks pulled up," she said. "I mean, they were ready to have a vacation."

Robin Gysin, with the Santa Cruz District Attorney's office, says scam artists are posting bogus ads on Craigslist regularly. They use photos from real estate sites that often have no connection to the addresses listed in the ads.

"They can take those pictures and I guess anybody can do it and say this is my house and I'm renting it, you know, and they post it and it looks like the real thing," she said.

The scam artists even have their victims sign rental contracts before requesting that payments be wired.

Authorities in Santa Cruz haven't arrested anyone, yet. They say the scam artists are hard to track down. They use fake names, temporary email addresses and never use the phone.

But authorities say people can avoid being a victim by using a credit card and reputable vacation rental sites.

As for Stephanie, she's since posted a warning on Craigslist.

"I just don't want people to, you know, lose their money," she said. "I mean, because they're planning their family vacation."

A vacation that for some families, ended before it began.
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