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Thursday 19 October 2017

Comment: How I was conned out of €600 in a holiday home scam

Stock photo
Stock photo
Payments by credit card are well protected, while debit card payments are like cash
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

I write today about a stranger's kindness. Or was it?

The girls and I usually take a holiday home with my sister and her family for a fortnight over the summer and, a few months back, we started looking for a place in Dingle.

We had left it late for this popular destination. I tried the various holiday home rental companies, without success. I then searched one of the country's popular trading websites, where I found a suitable property.

It was being rented by a man in England named Pat, and I contacted him. He was well spoken, not polished; his accent Irish, with a hint of English.

Only the first week was available. But, a few days later, he got back in touch.

He had checked the booking and realised that, while the second week was booked, it was by an American family going to a wedding and they weren't arriving until the Thursday. So…

I'm sure the cannier reader will see where this is going.

We ended up being offered the house for 11 nights. I paid him half the total price, €600, by bank transfer.

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I went around telling people how grateful I was to this stranger for his help.

I thought no more about it until, a few days before we were due to go, I sent Pat an email, to check on arrangements for picking up the key, etc.

Some hours later, I hadn't heard back so I phoned. The call went straight to voicemail. I texted, rang, emailed, repeatedly. All efforts to contact Pat failed.

Within 24 hours, I went from being fully confident that we were going to this house to recognising the inevitability that I had been conned. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

I now feel such an eejit. I'd consider myself to be fairly worldly and am embarrassed to have been duped.

Hopefully, telling my story might save someone else from the same misfortune. I often come across scams but they always seem so obvious.

My guard was down on this occasion. I felt I was the one who was reaching out, in control. But I later remembered the old adage, a man chases a woman until he's caught. I was the one who was being reeled in.

Thinking about it, holiday home rental is an excellent subject for a sting.

I should have been more cautious. But that's in hindsight. Friends are telling me they have made similar bookings, involving the same kind of trust, and never encountered a problem. A lesson has been learned. Beware of the dog who offers his paw.

It was the little details that made it seem so genuine.

Pat said the check-out time is normally 10am. This would not usually be strict but needed to be on this occasion as the Americans were "due to arrive early afternoon"; and he hoped we would be "ok with that".

I contacted the website. They advised me to contact the gardai, which I did.

They were very helpful, even if they couldn't give me much hope of ever seeing any of my money back. They told me that payments by credit card are well protected, while debit card payments are like cash.

If possible, avoid paying property owners directly (you usually pay through the booking company) unless you can establish their bona fides, perhaps through online reviews.

It is vital to keep things in perspective. This is a nasty event, not a tragic one, like a death or serious accident.

So, while I am also angry at what happened, I am not raging, because I know it's not personal.

Pat is a drain on society. But, unlike some who don't have the resourcefulness or drive to be any different, he does; and I can't help wondering what it would take for a person like this to turn to using their indisputable skills to earning a living legitimately.

I know I am not the one who did wrong here. I trusted, I was let down. Pat may have my money but I have my self-respect. Like class, that is something no amount of money can buy.


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