ISLE OF PALMS, SC (WCSC) - Isle of Palms Police are investigating a vacation rental scam after a bachelorette party from Maryland didn't exactly begin their trip to Charleston with southern hospitality.
The women arrived on Isle of Palms they discovered their vacation rental was a fraud.
"'This is a scam, we're very sorry but we didn't rent this house to you,'" Ashley Crawford said.
Those were the crushing words Crawford and her six friends heard as they stood in front of a Isle of Palms home, suitcases in hand.
"I felt stolen from, I felt like I brought everybody here and we have nothing now, we're stranded and our money is gone," Crawford said.
Crawford was in charge of finding a beach house for the trip. She says she's never rented a vacation home before, normally staying in hotels. She started her search on vacation rental websites and ended up on Craigslist.
"I had seen that particular house on several vacation home sites, so by the time I had reached it on Craigslist I was like 'oh!'" Crawford said.
In May, Crawford responded to the Craigslist ad, saying she was interested in the rental home. She said a man named Gary Abrams replied.
"He responded to me within 24 hours, gave me some additional information on the house and provided additional photos," Crawford said.
Crawford says the man sent over a rental contract and then requested a deposit and half of the rent, up front. Crawford says she paid him $1,150, the way her bank suggested.
"My bank will notify him we have funds for you to pick up and he goes and claims the funds, with identification," Crawford said.
As the girls' trip got closer, Crawford says she started to notice a change in the man she was corresponding with.
"The more questions I asked, the closer we got, the shorter his responses got," Crawford said. "In my gut, I kind of knew somethings not right about this, that last week."
Detective Sgt. Jeffrey Swain with the Isle of Palms Police Department says they've had four other cases just like Crawford's this year.
"Often time you're dealing with people that are overseas," Swain asid.
Swain says the name "Gary Abrams" has already been involved in scamming anther family on IOP this summer. Police believe it's a fake name and think the person behind it could be connected to a international crime ring.
The rental agency who manages the home said beach rental property pictures and addresses get used in fake "rentals" all the time. They say they try to do their part to protect vacationers by actively checking Craigslist and flagging posts as "scams."
Crawford says they were able to rent a hotel room and salvage their weekend. She says she wouldn't rent a vacation home again, unless it was through a licensed rental company that she could communicate with on the phone.
Swain also says to never wire money, but instead use a credit card where charges are more easily disputed.