JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Mandarin woman has a warning for anyone looking at vacation rentals. She thought she found a great Key West rental on Craigslist, but it turned out to be a scam.
Fortunately, the woman, who asked to not be identified, found out about it before driving her grandchildren eight hours to the Keys.
She told News4Jax on Friday this negative experience that almost cost her thousands of dollars inspired her to start a business that vets online rental solicitations.
When she first found the listing, she took extra precautions to make sure it was legitimate.
"I wanted to make sure this property was as presented in the ad, so I contacted a friend of mine who works for an investigative company to see if there were any red flags," the woman said.
She said the investigator didn't find any red flags and gave her the thumbs up to proceed with renting the property. But then, she said she knew something was wrong when she paid an $800 deposit via PayPal.
"The person contacted me and said the deposit didn't go through, so he wanted me to cancel it and resend it to a different email address," the woman said.
At that point, she said, she told the man his request was too suspicious, so he sent a list of references to verify his intentions.
"I called someone in Chicago, and when I called her, she said, 'Oh my God. I can’t believe he gave me as a reference,'" the woman said.
She said the woman in Chicago rented the same property in Key West on New Year's Eve. She also said that same woman told her something that raised even more red flags.
"The house was there, but no one would come to the door. It was locked up tight and the person she had been corresponding with was unreachable," she said.
The woman told News4Jax this experience has encouraged her and her husband to start an investigative company called Fireball Approves.
"We're going to investigate the actual homeowners so that when you come to our website, and you find a property that you like, we are guaranteeing that is the actual property owner, so we will vet the host for you," she said.
Since the woman filed a complaint with Craigslist, that particular listing was flagged and eventually removed.