Ft. Walton, FL - A woman was planning a trip to Florida with her friends, when she realized the dates they chose were during spring break. Everything was booked!
The victim doesn't want to be identified, but she said she went to Craigslist as a last resort and found a listing.
"He told me to go to the website to look, right on the beach, and we could have it for the 4 nights. Perfect," the victim said.
She sent the groups deposit which was $1,600 to Coastline Realtors. A few days later they received a contract that was listed do's and don'ts.
A few days before they were supposed to leave, the victim called to see where to get the keys. No answer.
"Now, I'm really beginning to become very suspicious."
Then she got an email stating he overbooked the condo and that he'd refund the deposit, but the money never came.
The victim called police. The state's Attorney General and postal inspectors quickly realized this group was not alone.
Michael Carleton scammed more than 100 people out of money and their vacations. He got $200,000 from his victims.
"He had been a legitimate realtor and property manager for a long time," Alexandra Papageorge, US Postal Inspector said.
But at some point, everything changed.
"He started renting out these properties in multiples. So, he would rent out to one customer and then he would rent out to another customer," Papageorge said.
Inspectors say research is key. Many people wrote poor reviews about Carleton on travel sites.
Google the company that's doing the rental, Google the address, Google the property manager's name, you know, just try several different variations just to see what you find out.