Internet scam tries to rent out homes in Ocean City

OCEAN CITY - A new Internet scam threatens to ruin some families' summer vacations at the New Jersey shore.

The scammers advertised Ocean City vacation rentals on the Internet site Craigslist and urged would-be renters to send their deposits to an out-of-state property owner. This is not so unusual in Ocean City, where investment property owners are scattered across the country.

A local Realtor quickly unraveled the scheme when she matched the advertised property to her own company's listing and found the house was not even available to rent.
"The site said, 'We've left the country. We want someone to rent who will take care of our property. We'll be renting our property for a long period of time,'" said Midge Grunstra, former president of the Ocean City Board of Realtors. "Sure enough, the same rental came up a second time with different information."

But her firm, Gold Coast Realty, had the listing for the property on the 4200 block of Central Avenue, and it was for sale, not for rent. Grunstra recognized the photographs the scammers used on their Internet site because she took them herself for her own sales Web site.

Ocean City police Lt. Steven Ang said the scam apparently originated out of Nigeria, home to many Internet scams targeting Americans.

The scammers sent two would-be victims a rental application. The victims suspected a scam and alerted Grunstra. Ang said the scammers wanted to steal the rental deposit.

Once it was determined that two Ocean City ads on Craigslist were bogus, they were taken down, police said.

"Our fear is there are many more out there that we don't know about," he said. "You're going to have a family who thinks they rented property in Ocean City for a great summer month. They're going to show up to check in and that place will already be rented legitimately to another family who went through a real estate office. And they won't have a place to stay."

Until then, police will have to wait to see how effective the scam was. Ang alerted the Board of Realtors and the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce. "You assume these scams are being done outside the United States. It's harder to prosecute, harder to trace. "