Holiday scam site shut down amid probe

A BOGUS website used as part of an elaborate holiday rental scam has been shut down as a Garda investigation continues.

The scam involved customers having to pay large sums of cash up front to stay in a luxury apartment, to which they could not subsequently access.

The apartment, advertised as part of the five-star Malibu Beach complex in Puerto Banus in Spain, was offered at a knockdown price of €500 per week by a man using the name Michael Haden.

The advertisement for the apartments appeared in a number of national newspapers as well as RTÉ classifieds and the property website daft.ie

As part of the hoax, Mr Haden told customers that he was a quantity surveyor and directed people to his website to verify his credentials.

The Irish Examiner subsequently discovered this site to be bogus and the staff listed on the site are employees of another firm of chartered surveyors, Tralee-based Richard Walsh Associates.

The website also poached material from the website of Keenan Quantity Surveyors, as well as claiming Mr Haden as a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors.

Both companies expressed shock at the manner in which material from their websites was used.

Managing director of Keenan Quantity Surveyors, Kevin Keenan, said he was “disgusted” at how their material was used by the scam site.

“From our point of view, we are just disgusted and horrified that our material would be used in this way. I would just like to reassure people that we have nothing to do with this individual whatsoever,” he said.

Simon Davidson, owner of Leitrim web design, who created the website, said he had taken down the account after being contacted by the gardaí, solicitors for the Society of Chartered Surveyors as well as Richard Walsh Associates.

“I was contacted by a number of people, including the gardaí, who requested that the site be taken down and, of course, I did that once it was clear it was a scam,” he said.

Mr Davidson said Mr Haden “sounded genuine” when he contacted him to set up the website, but that a number of issues raised concerns with him in hindsight.

“He sounded genuine on the phone but there were a few things that struck me as unusual. When he sent the pictures through, he kept saying ‘Don’t I look great in that one’ – things like that which I thought was strange. He also was very annoyed when I put up a phone number he gave me. He requested it be taken down immediately. It turns out it was a fax number for an auctioneers firm in Cavan,” he said.

Director general of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ciara Murphy confirmed its solicitors had requested the site be taken down and were continuing to seek legal advice on the matter.

“The matter is in the hands of solicitors who requested the site be taken down, as have the gardaí. That’s the first step and we are continuing to gather all the information we need to progress from here,” she said.

Gardaí at Anglesea Street in Cork said they were continuing their investigation.

AIB, the bank to which customers were instructed to lodge money to Mr Haden, said it would assist the gardaí in all their inquiries.


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