The principle of caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware, is certainly applicable in the case of the two Ocean City Beach Patrol members and their friends who thought they were working with a legitimate rental company, but instead were dealing with an online swindler.
It cost them $7,000, or their summer’s rent, as a poseur on Craigslist took their money and then took off, leaving these four Montrealers homeless and broke in Ocean City.
But given the official-looking layout created by this scammer – it included the names of real, verifiable people, copyright lines and other detailed information – few people would be inclined to question the ad’s validity.
And that’s the problem: the Internet’s reach extends so far that there’s nothing to prevent one party from stealing another party’s web property for nefarious purposes.
Even worse is that for some inexplicable reason, people have yet to grasp that the Internet is like a huge crowd of individuals, some good and some bad, with no dependable way to tell the difference.
That’s especially a problem on advertising websites like Craigslist, which can’t vet its entries, thus leaving online shoppers to fend for themselves.
That’s why some services are best sought directly from the source instead of an intermediary, digital or otherwise. Would-be renters from out of town, for instance, would be much better off dealing directly with a known and verifiable rental company rather than going shopping in an open air market, of sorts, on the Internet.
It’s a shame these four people were taken advantage of and it’s an even greater shame that there’s nothing that can be done about it, except maybe find them a place to live if they haven’t already found one.
In the meantime, as Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said this week, this does present a teaching opportunity. This is the lesson: established rental companies have their own complete Internet sites. Even then, call the office, speak to more than one person and don’t rent by email.