Authorities in New Jersey warning about shore rental scam

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Authorities up and down the East Coast are warning about a shore rental scam. The scheme is costing renters thousands of dollars.

Action News Investigative reporter Chad Pradelli tracked down the man allegedly in the middle of the con.

He says he was forwarding tens of thousands of dollars to Africa, money the victims believed was for deposits for lavish shore rentals.

But instead, the cash ended up in the pockets of thieves overseas.

Mandy Ziemer says she lost $6,000 when she tried to rent a Beach Haven home.

"I got ripped off. It's upsetting. You feel stupid," she said.

Ziemer says she found the listing on Craigslist.

"I reached out on email and instantly got a message back that they recently had a cancellation for two weeks and it was available during that time," said Ziemer.

What she didn't know was the rental had been cloned. That's where legitimate rental postings are copied and listed on other platforms. She says the thieves told her to send the deposit check to Atlanta where the owner was supposedly getting surgery.

"At that point, I said I was a little uncomfortable. I wasn't going to send a check without it being signed for," she said.

Instead, she said she was told to mail the money to a man the alleged thieves claim was a property manager in Toms River, New Jersey. So she did and the check was allegedly cashed by William Gray.

Action News tracked Gray down. When asked about his involvement in the alleged scam, Gray said, "Well I was doing some Bitcoin...so that's what I thought I was doing."

He says he met a woman named Amber on Match.com a year-and-a-half ago. He was looking for some romance.

Gray says he never met the woman in person.

"No, no...I talked to her on the phone. And she had an accent," he says.

The romance never materialized, but the friendship did and Gray says Amber soon began asking him to cash checks and wire the money to Kenya. He claims he was told the money was from Bitcoin transactions.

When asked by Action News why he forwarded overseas, Gray said, "I don't know. It was a lot."

Denise Payne owns the house and learned of the alleged scam from police.

"It is of great concern and this is a growing problem. It raised the concern that if somebody rents this way they are going to show up someday expecting to spend a week here and they'll be other people here," said Payne.

Gray says he never profited a dime while cashing the checks and stopped when investigators came knocking on his door. He said he questioned his friend Amber.

"When she sent me the email and told me what she was doing, I said 'that's illegal. You can't do that. That's laundering money,'" he said.

Gray says he should've questioned his role forwarding the money and wants to apologize to those who lost money.

"I am sorry that this happened because I was scammed as well," he says.

Williams Gray has not been charged. Amber's true identity is unclear.

Ocean County prosecutors say they're still investigating.
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