QCOSTARICA – If it seems better than expected, the ads for beach houses, with private pools, perfect for families who want to take a break without breaking their social bubble and minimizing the risk of contagion, “it probably isn’t.
That’s because of a recent trend of the new “business” for scammers, advertising vacations in Costa Rica with photos of homes or “cabinas” that are not even located in Costa Rica, most likely taken from other websites, to attract future vacationers.
As is usual, they ask for an advance payment to secure the reservation, but as the date close to arrival approaches, they, the scammers, simply vanish. No longer on social networks or the platform on which the contact was made.
Others, such as the case of families who have shared their stories in Facebook groups, find that when they arrive at the location, the house for which they paid for does not exist.
“I posted on a Facebook group, that I was looking for an option for the end of the year, and there some people contacted me privately and others directly; Of those who wrote to me privately, I was contacting them but they did not inspire confidence.
“In fact, one of them even told me to search on Booking(.com), I looked for it, and it appeared, but in the end, I didn’t pay, and then I saw that a person published a house in Junquillal beach (Guanacaste) and I was the one who contacted her, first she told me that for the 31 (December) there was no space; The next day she wrote to me and told me that it was available, she gave me the specifications, it was like $200 a night, she sent photos and told me that I had to pay 50% up front,” said a resident of Alajuela, who asked for anonymity, discovered that the house for which they paid about $300 to spend the end of the year does not exist.
She even said, the person who contacted her even offered to sign a contract as a sample of greater guarantee. Thus, after filling out the document that the person sent her, she made the transfer to pay more than $300 (half for the three nights she would stay with her family on the beach).
The woman said that days after, on the same Facebook group, she learned that it had been a scam, that the property didn’t exist and was then blocked by the persons she had sent the money to.
Despite having the bank transfer data and the name of the person who is on the account, the woman said that she will not file the complaint because she was told that the options to recover the money are few, rather she decided to make her experience public to prevent other people from falling into such traps.
Michael Solano, who manages the page “Cabinas y Villas en Costa Rica- Anuncie y Recomiende”, where more than 87,000 potential clients post their accommodation searches and more than 200 owners advertise, ensures that since the beginning of the pandemic this type of scams has increased.
“I created the group five years ago. Before none of this was seen or at least nobody had denounced it, this year with the pandemic it was like the boom because people prefer to rent houses to be alone (…) as it is almost always rented well in advance, they (the scammers) have about a month or even more with nobody noticing that the house does not exist,” he said.
Due to the increase in complaints from users, he devised a way to provide some security to users and now in order to advertise their spaces, owners must fill out a form where detailed information is requested, and only then are their publications shared.
Solano’s group is only one of a myriad of groups, some established others popping up overnight, offering great deals, some of which are just too good to pass up.
During a press conference on November 19, the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) revealed that complaints of bank fraud and scams soared this year. In total, there were 4,898 complaints so far in 2020, considerably higher than the 3,594 registered in all of 2019.
This category includes the well-known scams to obtain bank details, but also the sale of products and services over the Internet that do not exist.
During the press conference, Attorney General, Emilia Navas called on the people to be more distrustful and acknowledged that even if they have the information on the scammers, it does not mean that the money will be recovered.
“The Public Ministry has worked with the judicial police in important and successful cases to dismantle criminal organizations dedicated to defrauding countless people, taking advantage of the idiosyncrasy and culture of trust that we have in Costa Rica. But even if we manage to identify the people responsible, that does not mean that the money will be recovered,” she said.
What are the details that could prevent you from turning a few days off into a great disappointment?
Some key points:
- For example, prefer offers that come from Facebook pages and not from people’s profiles, especially if created for a short time.
- In the case of Facebook pages, check the number of followers, the comments or reviews of other people who have stayed there, photos, and details of the place.
- Another tip is to ask for recommendations, for example, which beaches to visit, where to eat or supermarket nearby. This way you will find out if the person really owns the place you are offering.
- Ask for references in groups like the one mentioned, so in case it is a known and previously reported case, other users will alert you.
- Avoid making direct deposits (bank transfers) unless you are confident of the person you are sending money to or use payment platforms such as Paypal and others where you have recourse.
- Speak to the person directly, not by email or chat, but, by voice and ask questions, lots of questions.