A Rotorua businesswoman wants others to know how easy it is to be scammed after losing more than $1500 when booking an overseas holiday home.
Kerris Browne, owner and chief executive of Petersons Sawmills, needed a holiday home on the Gold Coast for her and 18 family members for a reunion next month.
She went to popular Australian holiday home website, Stayz.com.au, which allows the user to deal directly with advertisers.
Shortly afterwards a woman emailed her claiming to be the property manager of a five-bedroom home Mrs Browne had inquired about and quoted $2840 for a 10-night stay. The house was booked and a rental agreement was emailed, signed and returned. A 50 per cent deposit was required up front.
"Nothing alerted me to the fact that this was dodgy. I run an international export company so I'm used to dealing with overseas transactions. We have our own holiday home here and asking for a deposit up front is quite normal, either by credit card or by wire," Mrs Browne said.
In mid-December she wired $1530 to the United Kingdom bank account she was given.
When she tried, last week, to get in contact with the woman, she had no response. Through the website she made contact with the real owner.
"She said they had never heard from me before and that I've been scammed. I was thinking, 'That can't be true, whatever, someone has the wrong employee', and then I was so angry. Somehow the correspondence between me and the owner got intercepted," she said.
"My family were absolutely gutted. The $1500 was separated between the family, my brother, his missus is a student and they have a child - they've been saving up for years and my mum is up north, retired, so she has a limited income."
Several similar incidents of the 'phishing' scam have been reported hitting holiday home websites. Stayz.com.au did not respond to the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday but its website does give online safety advice. This includes asking questions and to phone the property owner or manager to discuss, never use money transfers, and never send money to overseas bank accounts unless you have spoken directly with the property manager/owner and can verify the booking is legitimate.
Mrs Browne is still searching for a suitable property but will be paying by credit card, which has a six-month refund window and is covered by travel insurance in case anything goes wrong.
"I'm struggling to find anything that would have given me a clue. I'm a business owner and what's scary about this is look how easy it was for me to be done.
"Most people don't catch it until they show up so it's a real blessing that we found it when we did - imagine 18 of us showing up on the Gold Coast in the middle of school holidays."