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Scammed OC lifeguards trying to move on

(June 5, 2015) Four Ocean City Beach Patrol members who were scammed out of $7,000 and their housing for the summer on Craigslist have begun to move on by finding a nice place to live on 36th Street and creating a Go Fund Me web page to raise money.

“We are so happy about the Go Fund Me page. Friends and family members have donated a lot and we love them so much for their support,” Ocean City lifeguard Youcef Belrachid said. “We are still far from the $7,000 goal so we encourage people to continue sharing our story, talking about it and make a donation, anything helps. Finally, we have received amazing messages from [donors] and these comments are the ones that make us want to go out there every day and do the job that we do.”

Belrachid said they feel blessed after seeing family members of Beach Patrol members, Ocean City residents and people who they have never met helping to cover their loss.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the lifeguards had raised $3,430 in six days from 63 people.

On May 24, Belrachid and two friends, all from Montreal, Canada, drove about 600 miles to Ocean City for a job on the Ocean City Beach Patrol. They arrived to a gutted and unlivable condominium that had already been paid for via an Internet rental company. Belrachid’s brother, Rayhm, did not make the initial trip.

A summer housing ad placed on Craigslist by “Ocean City Vacation Rentals Management” turned out to be a scam and does not exist.

Belrachid, Rahym, and friends Aude Lemaire-Hamel and Adam Bielawski, were all supposed to live at the Nassau Village in unit 50 on 94th Street this summer, or so they thought.

“Scammers know we are not from here. It’s easy to steal identities online and it’s hard to trace, but we are not dropping this. If it keeps happening over and over to people, it means we are not shouting loud enough,” Belrachid said.

After investigating, it became apparent that the Canadians weren’t the only victims of fraud. The scammer had also co-opted some images and logos of the local vacation rental company, Central Reservations, to make its faux ad look more official.

In addition to lifting information and pictures from Central Reservations’ website, the fraudulent outfit also took company owner Mark Fritschle’s name to make the Craigslist ad and pretended to be him through emails with the lifeguards.

The fictional company’s ad included an email address, phone number, trademark and copyright icons.

The Ocean City Police Department could not write a report since the incident did not occur in its jurisdiction, Belrachid said.

The money was sent through PayPal, whose insurance policy does not cover real estate or services. PayPal did file a claim for the group, but if the scammer answers in 10 business days and disputes the charges, PayPal does not investigate and the case is closed, he added.

Local Realtors were helpful this past week and Belrachid met with them on his lunch breaks and before shifts.

“It was hard because our working hours go beyond those of the Realtors so it was not easy to visit places and see all the options out there while working,” Belrachid said. “We still managed to figure it out and we are glad we did. The place is a bit pricey but at this point we are just grateful to have a roof over our head for the summer.”

Any money raised that exceeds their $7,000 goal will donated to the SurfRider Foundation in Ocean City.

“It’s an organization that invites popular surfers to teach disabled or impaired children how to surf,” Belrachid said. “Their work is really meaningful and they change the lives of many kids so we really want to encourage such an engagement in our community by giving them all the extra money that we will raise.”

To donate money to the lifeguards, go to www.gofundme.com/OCBPlifeguards

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