An Irish student has warned her fellow J1 travellers to beware of a widespread rental scam in the US that cost her and her friends almost $5,000 (€4,000).
Leah Hughes, 21, from Clonskeagh in Dublin, had been planning the trip of a lifetime — a summer in Los Angeles with four of her friends.
The group wired $4,750 to a man claiming to own a property in Santa Monica on a reputable rental website, but he pocketed the money and left them with nothing.
Celine Kennelly of the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Centre in San Francisco said Irish students fall foul of this fraud every year.
Ms Kennelly added: “Our advice is, if someone asks you to wire money ahead of arriving here, don’t do it. We’ve had this situation before and many students get scammed this way every year.
“We want to get the message out there to people that wiring money over to someone you don’t know just isn’t safe.”
Leah, a journalism student from Dublin Business School, said: “Half of our accommodation money is gone. We’ve lost €750 each, which is half of what we were able to spend so we’ve decided we don’t want to go to LA. I don’t want to even think that I’m living in the same area as this guy who did this.
“But we still want to go because we’ve paid for our flights and our J1 visa but we’re going to go to San Francisco instead.”
Leah was tricked into believing she was dealing with a genuine landlord because she found the property on an established site that is used by people looking for accommodation all over the world.
Leah first became concerned when the man came back looking for more money once she had wired the first amount of cash. The man continued his demands for more money until he finally stopped communicating with Leah four weeks ago.
She has since contacted the real agents for the property she thought she would be renting and they told her they had never heard of the man who had tricked her into handing over so much of the group’s savings.
Leah has reported the fraud to the gardaí who are investigating.
She added: “I want to make sure that nobody else gets caught out like this. If someone asks you to wire money, just don’t do it.”
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