SANIBEL ISLAND, Fla. — Have you ever booked the vacation of your dreams only to find out you’ve been left in the dark thanks to a scammer?
Now, more than ever, scammers are taking advantage of unsuspecting victims online but there is a trend. It’s a growing problem that one vacation realtor wants to help end.
“She called and said I just want to let you know this person is portraying to be you, going on to the Facebook page and chiming in as an owner and conning people out of thousands of dollars.”
It’s become a growing plague throughout vacation realty and it all starts with a click. Prospective vacationers thinking they’re booking the rental of their dreams only to be scammed.
“Basically, this person has created a Facebook page using my name and then sending a client a VRBO listing," said Patience Rodriguez, a business partner with Select Vacation Properties. "When the client goes to that listing, it’s an actual property and it says its hosted by Patience Rodriguez so it looks legitimate.”
Only- it’s not. Patience Rodriguez has been in the business on Sanibel Island for more than 22 years and not once has dealt with this type of identity theft before. She says it’s a growing problem within the real estate community, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook.
“It’s really created a hosting station that’s perfect for the scammers. It’s giving them everything they need- access to clients, access to legitimate property. So they’re just going on to Facebook, chiming into these groups and acting as an owner and it looks legitimate so it’s a big issue.”
Rodriguez says she wasn’t even aware of the fraudulent account in her name until a close friend of hers brought it to her attention. Like many vacation rental companies, Rodriguez says she works exclusively through her company’s website while managing properties through a third-party. It allows her guests to book directly with her which, might sound like common sense, but not something everyone does.
“We did have a family come into our office, excited for their vacation and we didn’t have anything for them," says Rodriguez. "They didn’t have a reservation and it was this type of situation- they sent a scammer money and it, it was devastating.”
Rodriguez has even contacted Facebook, demanding the account be taken down.
“Seventy people have at least reported this and I keep getting a message back saying that it doesn’t go against community standards and they’re not taking the page down.”
While she can’t take down the account herself, Rodriguez says the only thing she can do is get the message out to potential guests. Her biggest message: always know who you’re doing business with.
“They’re very savvy, unfortunately. It’s really up to the consumer to be savvy and knowing don’t send anyone directly funds, don’t book on a social media platform- always book direct with a local agency. It’s the safest most secure way.”