A NUMBER of quantity surveyor firms have been unwittingly drawn into an elaborate holiday rental scam in which customers pay up front to stay in a luxury apartment which they cannot subsequently access.
The apartment, advertised as part of the five-star Malibu Beach complex in Puerto Banus, Spain, is offered at a knockdown price of €500 per week by a man using the name of Michael Haden. A recently engaged Cork couple, who booked the apartment but did not receive the keys from Mr Haden, were due to fly out today.
As part of the hoax, Mr Haden tells customers he is a quantity surveyor and refers them to his website to check his credentials. Yesterday, the Irish Examiner discovered that the website, mhandcoltd.com, is in fact a bogus site and the staff he lists are in fact employees of another firm of chartered surveyors, Tralee-based Richard Walsh Associates.
Richard Walsh Associates was stunned last night when informed that its staff were featured as employees of Mr Haden on a website that includes their profile pictures, albeit with their names changed. Managing director Richard Walsh said they were taking the matter very seriously and were taking legal advice.
Mr Haden also poached material from the website of Keenan Quantity Surveyors, listing some of their projects as his own, and he claims to be a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors.
Last night, director general of the society Ciara Murphy confirmed Mr Haden was not a member. She said they were taking the matter “very seriously” and had met with their solicitors yesterday to seek legal advice.
“We will be acting as a matter of urgency. We have to make sure the society is not being used inappropriately to support any allegation of fraud,” she said.
The Irish Examiner also contacted Andalucian Properties, the Spanish-based estate agents listed on the official Malibu Beach complex website. Spokesman John Stephenson said they had been contacted by a number of disgruntled customers.
He subsequently spoke to Mr Haden, who he said threatened him verbally. He said the properties typically rent for €3,000 a week and that they had similar problems last year with bogus advertisements. Mr Stephenson said he had brought the matter to the attention of the Garda Fraud Squad.
Gardaí confirmed yesterday that the matter is under investigation. AIB, the bank to which customers were instructed to lodge money to Mr Haden, said once an official inquiry is launched, it will “provide all possible assistance to the gardaí”.
A trawl by this newspaper also revealed that the contact number given by Mr Haden in the Puerto Banus ad was also supplied in a separate ad for an apartment in Puerto Rico in the Canaries at the cost of €250 per week.
Mr Haden could not be contacted yesterday.
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