Tourist ripped off in familiar vacation-rental scam

A tourist from Canada reported Monday he was ripped off on a Key West vacation rental, and it looks to be the exact same scam that victimized two other tourists in late December.

Michael Loustel from Manitoba told Key West police officer Monica Young that he paid $925 to a company called Vacation Homes LLC on Sept. 25 to rent 1023 Packer St. for a vacation in December. He booked it through a website calling itself VRBO/HomeAway.

He later felt there were red flags about the company and, sure enough, found out that the Packer Street address is not a rental and that the so-called rental office at 412 White St. is really a doctor's office.

"Loustel said they ended up not coming to Key West knowing that the home did not exist as a rental," Young in her report.

In December Gerald Gutzler of Nashville, Tenn., called city police and told them he and his family had rented the same house at 1023 Packer St. using the same website (vacation rental by owner) as Loustel did. When they got to the house, he "discovered that someone is living in the house" and that person told him it's not for rent.

According to a report written by Officer Todd Stevens, the resident told Gutzler "this has happened numerous times and the resident has been forced to turn away several parties who had been scammed."

The address of the rental agent, Vacation Homes LLC, was listed as 412 White St., a doctor's office -- just like what happened to Loustel.

Also in December, Adrianna Merrill of Burlington, Mass., told police she had booked a house at 827 Center St. using -- the same company used by Loustel and Gutzler even though it's a different URL -- and paid $932 for seven days.

But officer Igor Kasyanenko wrote in his report that she "learned the house is not there" when she arrived at the address. She told the officer that "a random person who was living in the area" told her "she was not the first person this has happened to at this location."

Throughout the Keys, short-term vacation rentals are strictly regulated.