SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -

Santa Cruz County prosecutors are warning people to take precautions when booking vacation rentals this summer to avoid getting scammed.

A family from Corte Madera recently got scammed by a person who posted a vacation rental in Santa Cruz on Craigslist. The posted listed an oceanfront home on West Cliff Drive for a rate of $650 for three nights.

The family followed the emailed instructions from the "agent," who instructed them wire transfer the funds to a bank account, which they did.

The agent then told them to meet her at the property address at 3 p.m. on a specified day. When the family arrived at the residence, the door was answered by a long-term tenant who informed them they'd been scammed.

The vacationing couple reported the scam, but was unable to recover the $650, and had to pay again for lodging elsewhere.

The Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Consumer Affairs Office says this kind of scam isn't uncommon. There are numerous examples of vacationers from other areas who come to Santa Cruz after a rental advertised on Craigslist only to arrive and discover that there is a homeowner or a tenant already living in the unit and the actual owner has not advertised it as a vacation rental.

The office advises the following precautions when looking for a vacation rental:

  • Use a reputable travel agency, property management company, or online services that provide secure payments.
  • Verify that the person offering the rental is the actual owner and that the address is valid.
  • Never wire transfer money or purchase pre-paid cash cards to pay for a rental. Pay with a credit card for extra security.
  • Be wary when a "property owner" claims that he is traveling abroad and wants to do business through email or texts.