Scammers targeting beach rental bargain hunters

Posted at 6:26 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 18:26:41-05

Clearwater police are seeing a spike in rental scams. Scammers are offering bargains on bogus beach properties.

Police are now trying to get out in front of the problem.

"People have shown up twice at the door thinking that they've rented the place," said a beachfront condo owner, who wished to stay anonymous.

That owner has seen posts on Craigslist with pictures of his property every couple of days. The scammer uses the old MLS listing from when the property was for sale.

"The old pictures, the old ad, word for word, posted onto Craigslist as a vacation rental," he said. "They make the price so low that it's almost impossible to believe."

Each time he sees the post, he posts another ad of his own, warning of the scam.

Clearwater police say there are some red flags to look for. First, you shouldn't find an MLS watermark on an ad on Craigslist. Second, check the price. If it looks too good to be true, it's probably a scam.

"I'd say 99 percent of the cases I get are through Craigslist," Detective Rob Lazzaro said. "The vast majority of the scammers are overseas."

Recently, Lazzaro says he's been seeing a new twist that combines scams.

Criminals, he said, find victims on dating sites like They do the typical scam, claiming they've left the country and ran into trouble. They need money and sweet talk the victims into wiring cash overseas. Once they've milked the victim dry, they explain they have a friend who can put cash into their bank account. Unknown to the victims, that cash is from fraudulent rental deposits. The victims then send those fraudulent funds to the scammer overseas.

"They have no idea anything like that is going on." He said.

Lazzaro says thick accents, bad grammar in emails and text messages should also raise red flags.

The best thing for people to do is research, call a real estate company and when booking online, don't rely on Craigslist.