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Fraud charge first step towards explaining cottage rental scam

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For the families who had their vacation plans ruined by a cottage fraudster last summer, justice may finally be on its way.

According to the Toronto Star, a 25-year-old man named Steven Caruana, from Cottam, Ont., has been charged with fraud under $5,000.

The charge relates to a series of scams involving a cottage in Gravenhurst falsely rented out to multiple families last summer. Although only one charge has been laid against Caruana, Toronto Police will investigate whether he could be linked to any of the other cons.

Last July, a Toronto Star investigation found that at least two families were scammed by fake vacation rental ads posted on Kijiji, duping the families out of thousands. In these cons, a man going by a variety of aliases, including Steven Oriley, advertised a beautiful cottage in Gravenhurst for rent, claiming the property as his own. In actuality, the cottage at 1080 Viewpoint Trail belonged to 75-year-old Klaus Stelzer, who was alarmed when families arrived at his doorstep with bags and expectations of a relaxing getaway.

When negotiating with families, one of which traveled all the way from Colorado, Oriley offered to reduce the fee if he was pre-paid a deposit via a wire transfer. When the families arrived and realized they had been duped, Oriley cut off all contact.

One of the victims, Ana Rosales, says she hopes Caruana’s charge leads to compensation for the money her family lost on the fraud, approximately $1,500.

“My mom was so disappointed in humanity when we realized we had been scammed,” Rosales told the Toronto Star. “But it is good to hear that someone else is getting their money back. Maybe we will, too.”

Last summer, Toronto police Const. Jennifer Sidhu told the Toronto Star, “These things do occur on a daily basis over the Internet. The Internet has created a new target market for fraud and a mechanism for people to find victims.”

Whenever renting a cottage online, always use a reputable rental websites such as AirBnB, avoid wiring money, and seek out reviews whenever possible.