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by Kane Kaiman
There’s never a good time for a fake-ation.
On Valentine’s Day, Delaware resident Rob Sweeney surprised his wife with an April trip to Holmes Beach.
But they were both in for a surprise April 2 as they pulled up to their Bamboo Apartments unit.
“Somebody pulled in right behind our car. And I got out and he goes, ‘Oh, this is our unit,’” Sweeney said April 8.
Sweeny promptly called property manager Alice Sutton, who said the Sweeneys didn’t have a reservation.
“And then I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, we got frauded,’” Sweeney said.
He paid for the weeklong April stay in January after communicating with “Damian Janssen,” who reached out via email as Sweeney browsed a HomeAway/Vrbo website.
Janssen sent him a four-page rental agreement that included a property ID number and listed Doug Stewart and Sutton as property owners.
The agreement contained credit card payment instructions. Sweeney was directed to a URL with the phrase “send-money-to-ireland” where he input Stewart’s information, including a residence in Dublin, Ireland.
“I got caught up in everything, you know, thinking, ‘Oh, I got a nice property.’ And the price was pretty reasonable and, obviously, it wasn’t real,” Sweeney said.
He paid $1,150 for the stay, money that his credit card company refunded.
According to Sutton, the sole property owner of Bamboo Apartments, an April 2-9 stay at the unit should have cost the couple about $2,000.
“We were as much a victim as the people that were defrauded,” Sutton said April 8. “Somebody’s using my name. Somebody is claiming to be my partner. Somebody is scamming people out of money and they’re showing up on my doorstep; that’s horrifying.”
“I feel terrible for (the Sweeneys) and if I’d had a spot for them, I’d have given it to them,” she added.
On the day of the incident, the Sweeneys reached out to the Holmes Beach Police Department’s dispatcher, who informed the couple that they would need to file a complaint with the police department in their hometown of Lewes, Delaware, where the fraud originated.
But since receiving a refund, Sweeney has not pursued the matter. The fraud is on the credit card company.
According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, online scams are difficult cases to solve.
“What we do is we try to see if we can track down the email address that it was sent from or an IP address. But to be honest with you, that’s not something that’s going to be easy, because you don’t know if this was even done in this country,” Tokajer said April 6.
Tokajer advises prospective renters to vet rental agreement documentation before making any payments.
The Sweeneys — visiting Anna Maria Island for their wedding anniversary for the second year in a row — salvaged their vacation April 2, securing a six-day stay at Cedar Cove Resort and Cottages and a night at SpringHill Suites in Bradenton.
“We love it down here. We will come back, and, you know, the experience, it turned from a disastrous Saturday into a really nice vacation,” Sweeney said. He told The Islander he was willing to risk some embarrassment sharing his story in hopes that doing so would prevent others from falling for similar schemes.
“Obviously, some people are going to go, ‘Oh God, this guy was stupid,’ which I obviously was,” Sweeney said. “But, you know, if it helps other people out, that’s a good thing.”