Officials warn of summer rental scams

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WILDWOOD- This summer was supposed to be one to remember for a group of Pennsylvania teens.

Jaclyn Murphy, of Drexel Hill, Pa. and nine of her friends planned to rent a three-bedroom beach house on Poplar Avenue for the season. This would be the last summer before the girls would go off to separate colleges.

Murphy and her friends saved all they could from their part-time jobs, while balancing schoolwork and sport’s practices.

After they paid $16,000 to rent the house, the girls have discovered they won’t be able to move in, because landlord Barbara Gentile has a tenant already living in that home- with a signed lease good through September.

According to Murphy’s mother, Mariann Murphy, Gentile won’t refund the $16,000, either.

“They were heartbroken,” Murphy said. “The money is bad enough but they are upset they aren’t getting down the shore for the summer.”

Murphy said that Gentile has already spent the $16,000 on her own mortgage, so she can’t refund the girls.

So, Murphy has contacted the media about the scam, including a CBS I-Team Report, and posted her story on the website “Ripoff Report.”

Detective Ken Gallagher, with the Wildwood Police Department, said that Murphy pressed criminal charges against Gentile earlier this month.

But, this isn’t the only rental scam the department and county prosecutor’s office are investigating.

Kenneth Super, chief of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Investigation Division, said that there are over a dozen cases similar to this one being investigated this year.

“In my experience, the amount of these scams has gone up,” he said Tuesday.

Super attributed the rise to renters trying to save a few bucks by not searching for a rental through a licensed real estate agent. Instead, they’ll use sites like Craigslist or contact landlords directly to find rentals.

“Most of the complaints that come in are young adults trying to save a couple bucks by not going through a Realtor,” Super said. “That’s where a lot of people will get in trouble.”

He also said that many of these scams are centered in shore towns like Wildwood, which is popular among college students and graduating high school seniors.

Because they may be unsuspecting, and are looking to rent on the cheap, they are targeted for scams, Super said.

Besides double booking rentals, such as what happened to Murphy, other landlords will offer bait and switch deals, or will advertise different properties to potential renters than the house they actually own.

Other “scam artists” aren’t the landlords at all, but are actually renting the properties and then trying to rent them out again to young adults. In some instances reported last year, summer renters who thought they had a house for the summer were surprised when the owners showed up and asked what they were doing there. They lost their money and had no place to stay.

A majority of the landlords accused of the scams also live locally, Super said. However, he stressed that most landlords in shore towns are honest.

“This is an act of few not an act of many,” he said.

One accused suspect, Super said, is James Georginis, who previously operated a website called “Jimmy’s Wildwood Rentals” has a number of charges against him from different groups of young renters looking for senior week shore houses.

Like Murphy, many of those accused have also gone to the site “Ripoff Report” to warn others about their experience.

According to the prosecutor’s office, landlords who conduct similar scams are typically charged with “theft by deception.” The degree of the charge is determined by the amount of money swindled. If the amount taken is less than $75,000, it’s a third degree crime.

Those convicted of a third degree crime could see three to five years in jail, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Super said that to avoid these scams, renters should always try to book rentals with a real estate agent. If they must deal with a landlord directly, they should ask for references and check them out, as well as take a trip down to the property, before they pay out any money.

Neither Georginis nor Gentile returned phone calls asking for comment for this story.

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at wildwood.shorenewstoday.com.


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