Schoolteacher Catriona Morgan thought she was booking a getaway in Donegal, Ireland, but soon realised she was being conned and has now warned others to watch out for similar issues
A mum has issued a stark warning to holiday makers hoping to head to Ireland after losing £250 in an elaborate Facebook scam.
Schoolteacher Catriona Morgan thought she was putting the money down as a deposit for a week long stay in a Donegal holiday home with a hot tub after coming across an ad on Facebook Marketplace.
The Derry native thought she had found a “good deal” and was hoping for a “much-needed family break” after her brother, sister-in-law and their children moved to Derry from Australia.
But she now believes she was scammed by a “proper sociopath”.
The supposed owner, who is continuing to market the same property online, has yet to be formally identified, reports BelfastLive.
When Catriona got in touch he told her it was his parent’s home who could not use it this summer after his father had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment.
Catriona said everything seem “real” until April 1 when her husband had noticed another Facebook post.
“I thought my husband was joking initially because it was April Fools Day but that’s when he alerted me to someone who had found themselves in a similar situation that didn’t add up,” she said.
“I recognised that it was his name that was on the listing on Facebook and that’s when I knew it was a scam.
“I was devastated because it was the first time that my parents were going to see all of their grandchildren together.
“And what is scary about all of this now is that he came across as a very nice person who just wanted everything to go as smooth as possible.
“He would chat to you as if you were somebody that he would know. He would talk about how his father was undergoing treatment for cancer and how he hoped that the treatment went well.
“It’s very strange now when you look back in hindsight.”
Catriona wasn’t the only one to get caught out by such a scam. Helen, a mother-of-two also from Derry also suffered the same fate when she booked a holiday stay in Donegal, after stumbling across a similar advertisement.
She contacted the scammer in March asking to use the holiday home from July 16th for seven days. Speaking to MyDerry, she explained her heartbreaking ordeal.
Helen said: “My sister and I had rented a house last year through another website and it was £600, so to see this house we decided that we could at least enquire about it.
“That’s when I decided to message him and he came back to me fairly quickly but he wasn’t a yes man.
“He was very cautious about the whole thing and that’s what makes this situation so bizarre. He was playing a part essentially which makes it even more chilling.
“It was extremely clever on his part because it made me think that he wasn’t a scammer. He even told me that he wanted to chat on the phone.”
It’s understood the property is in fact real and those affected said that it’s owned by a woman in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal. They said the woman has “nothing to do” with the scam and is losing business because of it.
Having paid the deposit, the scammer and Helen agreed to meet at a pub in Bunbeg, Co Donegal after Helen asked to see the property.
She added: “When I told him this, he was able to give me details about the area and told me that he would be able to meet me in a local pub and that he was good friends with the barman called Mickey.
“When I arrived, there was no barman called Mickey. Nobody even could think of the house that I was describing when I got there. It wasn’t the first time that I did this. I actually went to Bunbeg twice to meet him and he didn’t show on either occasion.
“He comes across like a proper sociopath. It felt like he was getting a kick out of this.”
Getty Images/Tetra images RF)
The PSNI, who had been contacted about the incident, said they had reported the scam to Action Fraud.
Chair of Scamwise NI Partnership, Police Service of Northern Ireland Superintendent Gerard Pollock said: “As we’re all more eager to go on holidays after going for two years without one, criminals are also more eager than ever to get their hands on our money.
“We know criminals are preparing for the summer with tailor-made holiday scams and, so, we would encourage everyone to do thorough research when booking holiday plans online.
“Most often holiday scams start with an advertisement online, or on a social media platform. There are key ways, however, to stop yourself from falling victim to these scams.
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image)
“Do your research on the company or accommodation you plan to book – don’t just rely on one website or one review. If a company is fake, there’s a good chance others will write about their experience online too.
“Look for the logo, check to see if the company is a member of ABTA and, if you’re booking a flight, check to see it’s approved by ATOL.
“Never pay by bank transfer – the safest way to pay is by credit card and, where possible, avoid paying by bank transfer to someone you do not know or have not met in person.
“If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
If you have been a victim of a scam, report it to police on 101, to your bank immediately, online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040.
Information and advice is also available at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni.