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When Shelly Stamis saw an advertisement online for a vacation home in Florida at only $200 a night, she thought she had found the ultimate vacation steal.
"We looked at all the pictures, and it was right on the beach, and it was definitely in our price zone, so we booked it," the Grand Rapids, Michigan mom told NBC News.
Shelly wired $1,500 to a bank account in Florida and packed up her 2 kids, but when they arrived everything went wrong. Shelly found out she was a victim of a growing form of online scam that targets travelers booking hotels and vacation homes, enticing them with too-good-to-be-true deals.
Turns out the listing she loved at the Sand Pearl Residences in Clearwater Beach, Florida was never for rent at all. The property's manager, Joyce Gonzales, recently turned away five families who fell for the same scam.
According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 15 million scam reservations were made last year, costing Americans over a billion dollars.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is warning consumers to be vigilant for these types of scams.
"It's a tremendous problem here in Florida," Bondi says. "If they're located in our state, we're going to go after them with everything we've got. But, unfortunately, a lot of [the scammers] are out of the country."
To protect yourself, authorities have the following tips:
- Google the property's address, to make sure the listing wasn't copied from a legitimate site.
- Speak to the property's manager directly by locating their phone number on your own.
- Pay with a credit card that has a fraud prevention guarantee.