A couple in France has been sentenced after being found guilty of scamming holidaymakers who were looking for a place to stay in Dordogne or the Côte d'Azur.
On October 19, the correctional tribunal of Périgueux found the couple guilty of scamming 16 victims for a total of €43,647, between the years 2015-2016. They used online rental sites such as Abritel to list properties that did not actually exist for rent.
A complaint dating back to 2015 began the case against them. An American woman from New York was planning a trip to the Côte d'Azur to attend the Cannes film festival. She booked the couple’s apparent holiday home after receiving a special offer.
But when she showed up at the apartment’s address, which was supposedly on Avenue de la Croisette, she realised that the property did not exist, and she had been scammed. She reported the incident to police, who eventually traced the booking back to the couple.
The couple would use sites such as Abritel to list scam properties. Photo credit: Abritel
The pair, in their 40s, are originally from Poland and live in Lalinde, a small village in Dordogne.
They did not look at each other while in the dock. The woman was condemned to one year in prison, of which eight months were suspended. The man was sentenced to 18 months in prison of which 14 were suspended. They were also ordered to refund the victims, with the sums ranging from €1,400 to €5,800.
The couple has now separated, and will not return to prison after having spent four months in custody while awaiting trial.
The woman tried to apologise to the victims. She said: “My ex-partner managed it all, I didn’t know what was happening.” However, the rental contracts appeared to be in her name, as were the financial accounts in Luxembourg.
The man did not protest the charges. He said that the period had been a difficult time in his life, and the documents were only in his ex-partner’s name because he did not have his own passport.
He said: “It was my mistake, I am responsible.”
The couple said that they used the money to pay bills, and that they sometimes did refund people who had been scammed. However, the prosecutor said that they “used the cash to fund their lifestyle”. Investigators searched their home and found a luxury rental car, a designer bag and designer sunglasses.
The court found that victims believed that they were reserving a house in either Dordogne or the Côte d'Azur, including in Issigeac, Grignols, Villamblard or Allas-les-Mines. Would-be ‘guests’ paid one half of the payment, and then the other.
In most cases, a few days before the booking check-in date, the clients would receive an email saying that the booking could no longer go ahead, because of “family reasons”. But in contrast to most legitimate bookings that are cancelled at the last minute, the money paid would never be refunded.
Sometimes the couple listed homes that they themselves were staying in, without permission from the owner to do so.
The court said: “When the homes did exist, they took several reservations for the same dates, and then cancelled them because they couldn’t honour them. And sometimes the houses just didn’t exist.”
Since serving their detention sentences (which they have already completed while awaiting trial), the woman has been hired at a large company in Dordogne, and the man is attempting to grow his own business.