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Deputies: Phony beach rental nearly costs college student thousands

St. Augustine Beach home listed as rental online; owner says it's not for rent

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – There’s a consumer alert in St. Johns County, where deputies are warning about a phony rental property listed on Craigslist that nearly cost one woman thousands of dollars.

It involves a beachfront home in St. Augustine Beach that’s listed as a rental property. The only problem is it’s not for rent. 

News4Jax talked with one of three women, all of whom go to University of St. Augustine for Health Science, that realized they were caught up in a hoax.

They thought they had found their dream rental home on the beach. Instead, it was too good to be true.

Though the students were on winter break Friday, News4Jax spoke by phone with Alexandria Freundenberg, who was back home in Indiana. 

According to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, it was an ad on Craigslist that got the attention of Freundenberg, who was looking with her classmates for a home to rent on St. Augustine Beach. Freundenberg said she spoke to a person over the phone who posted the ad.

“This gentleman seemed very thorough in his verbiage to make it sound legit,” she said. 

Freundenberg said he sent her a rental contract that looked legitimate, and she even showed her parents the contract so they could look it over. But, when she tried to pay the $3,000 deposit, bank security made it hard for him to get the cash. She said the man became frustrated and asked her to wire the cash to an account under another name. That’s when she said she knew something was up. 

“I thought I was dealing with a Michael Spittle. Then the name on the first account was Mark Cook. The second account he wanted me to send money to was Cathy Daniels,” Freundenberg said. “So as I’m on the phone with the bank, I told them, ‘Instead of putting the money through, I actually want you to cancel the transaction.’”

She said he eventually told her the different names are people who are part of a time share agreement with the property. But Freundenberg was still suspicious, so she and her classmates went to see the home in person. 

“A gentleman was outside the house and so we asked him, ‘Can you tell us a little bit about your rental experience?’ And the guy looked at us like we were total idiots because he said, ‘I don’t rent this house. I own this house,’” Freudenberg said. 

According to detectives, the actual owner told the women something even more troubling.

“He said, ‘This is not the first time that somebody has used his home and pictures of the original real estate listing,’” Freudenberg said. 

News4Jax spoke to the actual owner, who said the last time this happened, a vacationing family of four showed up at his front doorstep, only to find out they were not only swindled, but forced to find a hotel. 


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