In East Hampton last weekend, standing next to a car parked by the side of Accabonac Road, a very young woman was seen crying. A few drivers had pulled off the road and were clustered worriedly around her, some consulting their cellphones. A man who’d come out of his house to investigate and gone back in to get a map was squinting at it, frowning.
The young woman looked up as a newcomer approached. “Do you live around here?” she blurted. “Do you happen to know where Lily Street is?”
“Lily? Do you mean Lilla? There’s a Lilla Lane in Springs.”
“No, Lily. Lily Street, East Hampton. Number eight, Lily Street.”
It emerged that she’d answered an Internet ad for an every-other-weekend summer share. After talking by phone with a man who told her he’d rented a seven-bedroom house “near everything” and was subletting it at very low prices, not so much to make money as “just to get a free summer,” she’d sent a check for $1,000 to a post office box number and driven out from Passaic, N.J., full of anticipation — only to find herself the victim of a vacation rental scam. There is no such place as Lily Street in East Hampton Town, not according to Hagstrom’s Atlas of Suffolk County and not on Google Maps either, which this credulous young woman somehow seemed never to have heard of.
Online ads for low-cost rentals in sought-after locations like the South Fork proliferate at this time of year, sometimes accompanied by photos of attractive houses. The victim arrives to find the location doesn’t exist, or the house looks nothing like the one in the picture, or the people who actually live there haven’t a clue what she’s going on about.
People who fall for vacation-rental scams tend to be young and footloose. The elderly and houseproud, on the other hand, are the preferred targets of another breed of seasonal scammers, door-to-door workmen offering various home-improvement services. Often, especially now at the start of summer, they’ll point out minor cracks in a driveway and suggest repairs — always, for one or another plausible reason, at bargain-basement rates. By the time a hard rain washed away their useless mix of black paint and motor oil they would be gone, but their scam lives on, and will continue to, as long as common sense vanishes when what looks like a steal walks in. Caveat emptor, and have a happy summer.