KILL DEVIL HILLS -- Before the rush of the major tourist season begins, police encourage visitors to make sure the people who rent them homes are people who actually have the right to rent those homes.
"Every year, we have some families show up. They're excited to be here on their vacation, and there's already somebody in their house, and they find out, basically, at that point that they rented into a scam," explained Sergeant John Towler with the Kill Devil Hills Police Department.
Towler told 13News Now bogus landlords often borrow descriptions of homes from legitimate property listings.
That was the case for an owner of an oceanfront house who found that someone listed her rental property on Craigslist 10 times in the past year. More than a dozen people contacted her, explaining they almost were taken by the fake advertisements.
"There's so much available online now about these rental homes. I mean, you can take the virtual tours. It's very easy to mimic a real ad, and they're very realistic. They have real information. The only thing that's fake is the contact," said Towler.
Although some property owners independently list their rental properties, most tend to use a real estate agency.
To prevent yourself from becoming a victim, police say to be mindful of too-good-to-be-true prices. A modest,4-bedroom, semi-oceanfront property in Kill Devil Hills rents for between $2,000 and $3,500 a week in-season. If you stumble upon property offered for far below that, be cautious.
Most legitimate rentals require payment by credit card, check, or cashier's check. If someone asks for payment through a wire service, chances are the rental isn't on the up-and-up.
Officers say elaborate back stories about why a property is such a bargain also can be a tip-off. If a "landlord" goes over-the-top in trying to convince you of his/her trustworthiness, there may be something wrong.
Poor grammar or sentences that don't make sense in a listing also may signal trouble.
"You can look up the phone numbers that were listed in the fake ad and find scam, scam, scam associated with them, so it's not hard to not get scammed, but it still happens to people," noted Towler.