FORT MYERS — As the demand for rental properties goes up, so does the amount of scammers.
The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office is warning people to be on the lookout, and we’re hearing from one woman who said she’s already become a victim.
Carol Matza and her husband wanted to visit Fort Myers back in February. They booked a house on Air B&B and made the drive down from Oklahoma, but when they got here, everything went wrong.
"I just don’t want anyone else to go through this," said Matza.
Matza said she and her husband drove more than 1,000 miles only to find someone else in their house.
"We went around back and we were looking in back and we looked in the window and someone’s living there. There’s all kinds of just shelves with food and the lights are on, and then we hear a dog start barking," said Matza.
Matza said they had to quickly find another place to rent, and it wasn’t cheap.
"The $2,700 that we paid turned into over $5,000 because we had to pay for the other places," said Matza.
But looking back, Matza said she realized she made a mistake by paying for the house outside of the Air B&B website, on PayPal.
"We did go outside Air B&B, even though she encouraged it, and told us you know we’d get a better rate," said Matza.
Claudette Smith with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office said asking to pay outside the rental site is a common warning sign.
“If someone is asking you to send them money through PayPal, wire transfer, Venmo, anything like that, that’s a red flag right off the bat," said Smith.
The scam is so common, Air B&B even has an entire page about it on its website. Smith said, with rental properties in high demand, criminals have more incentive to try these scams.
“[Renters] are becoming almost desperate to find a home which, scammers like that. They like to have a victim that’s desperate and is going to fall for anything," said Smith.
That’s why Matza wants her story told, so other people don’t fall for it.
"I just want people to be watching out for these, these scams," said Matza.
We did get in touch with the woman renting out the house that Matza paid for. We didn’t reveal her identity or show the house because she claims PayPal denied her attempt to send a refund to Matza. Shortly after this story aired, Matza says the woman refunded her the full amount of $2,700.
Smith said, if you believe you have become the victim of a rental scam, you should call local law enforcement, and you can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.