Winchelsea Beach new year scam

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I want you to imagine that on Friday, December 29 you are sitting at home ‘chilling’ after a busy and fun-filled Christmas when the ‘Ring’ doorbell sounds. That’s odd because you are having a quiet relaxed day with no visitors. Standing outside are a couple and their children and they tell you that they are booked into your house for the new year.

Well this scenario happened to a couple in Winchelsea Beach but the story gets worse.

Let’s go back to the beginning with the first family. The homeowner rings his wife who is out in Camber and she returns home to help sort out the confusion. The family show the homeowners the paperwork which all looks real. They have driven for over two hours and now have to return with children who are really upset.

The doorbell rang again that day right up to 6pm with more families and couples who had all paid money to stay at the house. At one point there were six sets of people on the drive. The range of emotions was intense. Some of the people who had been scammed were angry and insisting that the homeowners did something to help them, others cried and some were so shaken they had to be taken into the house and given a drink and time to calm down.

On the next day it was the owners’ wedding anniversary and they set off to have a drive and a lovely celebratory meal. But they were interrupted because their phones’ remote access to their doorbell revealed people trying the door, rattling the handle, peering into their home through the windows and even going through to the back garden. They had no choice but to turn around and return home to sort out angry and upset victims of this scam. One lady said she had frozen food which would melt – so what should she do? The homeowners had no answers. They logged the scam with the local police and encouraged others who had lost money to do the same.

The couple who owned the house were exhausted and shocked and felt strongly that they had become victims too. They were even accused of creating this fraud themselves. They understood why people were so upset and angry but felt intimidated with the continual barrage of words hurled at them. They did not want local people to think that they had had any involvement at all.

Leanda Parrott was one of the unfortunate families who were scammed, here is her heartfelt letter explaining it all.

“So, 24th December I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post advertising a stay at a three-bedroom home in Winchelsea. 30th Dec-1st Jan. Myself, my husband and 4 children have never had a holiday away as a family and I had been saving for Christmas with just enough left over to cover the £200.

“After seeing the ad I decided to message the lady with the Facebook account, Leigh Tichener. I realise how very naive I was now but at the time was so excited and she sounded so nice. She said it was available and I asked how it works as I was not happy bank transferring her £200. She responded and said her husband would email me an invoice and once paid he would send the booking confirmation. She said I could pay using PayPal but would have to cover the £6.50 fee. This was fine with me as I’ve always been told as long as you pay with PayPal goods you were covered. I convinced myself if it was a scam why would someone let me pay with PayPal goods knowing I would get my money back. So I went ahead and booked.

“Later that day I had a missed call so rang the number back – she would only answer through WhatsApp. She was ever so nice and explained things like leaving life jackets at the property as it was right on the river and even said she would like to put my children a pack together as it was their first holiday. She explained to me it was her mother-in-law’s house and she was now in a home. Her and her husband only rent it out occasionally as she finds it too much hard worker getting a cleaner in all the time. Thinking back now I can see she was just trying to be nice and relatable, but I don’t really understand why because at this stage I had already paid.

“We surprised the children Christmas morning and said we were going away for the new year and I’ve never seen them so excited, age range 3-11. Her husband ‘Mathew Barry’ sent me emails with confirmations and what to do in the property and wished us a Merry Christmas.

“Roll on to the 29th December, we spent the day packing the car and getting everything ready for the trip. Getting care for our dog while we were away. Filling the car, checking oil, pumping the tyres. All the normal things you’d do before a trip. That’s a lot of packing and sorting for a family of 6.

“We left our home in Surrey around 10.45am arriving in Winchelsea at 1.10. We took a while to find the property but eventually did. We found it strange as there was a car in the drive but I just said to my husband it may be the cleaners as our check in time was 2pm. We drove down to the sea had a look at the choppy water and then popped to the shop to buy essentials for our stay amounting to £50 including ice cream as a treat for the children.

“We got to the house at 1.50pm so I text the number asking if we could go in 10 mins early – the text didn’t go through.

“I went to the door and the property didn’t look like a holiday let. I noticed the key safe was 4 digits and they had given me a code for 6 digits. As I was looking around I heard someone come on the ring doorbell. A kind voice said; “Hello, please don’t say you’re here for a holiday break.” I replied: “Yes we are,” and he said: “I’m ever so sorry but we’ve had ten families turn up in the last two days and it is a SCAM.”

“I was dumbfounded and in shock. My children and husband were way back on the drive so didn’t hear any of this. What was I going to say? For the last three hours all I had heard was ‘”re we there yet?” I was honestly in disbelief.

“After, the man (who actually owned the property) said he would be home in twenty minutes and could try and help us find a B and B. I walked back to the car and couldn’t hold back my tears. My children were so confused and said: “Why would anyone do that Mummy?”

“It honestly was so hard but we were so upset and didn’t have enough funds for a hotel so we decided to drive straight home. The whole way home there were tears from me and my children. I wasn’t worried about the money at this point just the fact my children were heartbroken by the lowest type of people around us. I felt so much anger it hurt.

“I’m sharing this story as I really don’t want anyone else to be in this position. Since being home I have reported to Action Fraud and the police and I’m really hoping some of the other sixteen families have done the same. Without all the reports I believe these people will keep doing this and keep getting away with it. Hopefully we will get our money back and will be able to save for a summer getaway maybe to Winchelsea under better circumstances as what we saw we loved.”

The photos of the imaginary property

The photographs on the advert bore no resemblance to the house that the families arrived at. They had been promised a hot tub and some of the disappointed people wanted to check in the garden to see if they had one, which of course they had not.

Words of advice:

• If it looks too cheap to be real, be warned: it is probably a scam.
• Book through a well-known agency.
• Do not pay money straight into a private account.
• Scams are so sophisticated these days: if you have any doubts do not proceed.

Sussex Police have given Rye News this information for all its readers to follow if affected by fraud.

If you have been a victim of fraud, you can report this to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or via the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre on 0300 123 2040.

You can also find out more information on the Sussex Police website here: https://www.sussex.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/fa/fraud/personal-fraud/prevent-personal-fraud/

With thanks to Mark Streeton for his assistance with this news report.

Image Credits: Kt Bruce , Leanda Parrott .

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I am so sorry to read this, it must have been so upsetting for you all, makes me so angry that people are so evil and manipulative.

  2. This is absolutely dreadful, imagine families having their expectations dashed and at New Year too. It is clear the poor homeowners in Winchelsea Beach were as helpful as possible and went above and beyond for the victims of this scam, in fact the homeowners were also victims.
    I sincerely hope the Police will find and prosecute the scammers who perpetrated this, as KT’s article states, scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as well as the links above, I have found the advice in Money Saving Expert very useful https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/stop-scams/

  3. This story made tears well up in my eyes, the perpetrators must be found and prosecuted although I have no trust that the police will manage that.

    What a world we live in, this will harm those children mentally for a long time.

    R Bailey

  4. I cannot understand anyone who takes pleasure in creating misery for others – both the house owners and ‘guest’ but they do. Faceless people hiding behind keyboards. One can only hope ‘what goes around comes around’
    I agree – MSE is an excellent site.

  5. A really nasty, cruel scam. If the money was paid via Paypal, the scammers must have a Paypal account, therefore Paypal must have their details. Does that not make them traceable? And as they advertised on Facebook, are they not traceable via their Facebook account? Am I wrong about that? It’s worrying that any of us could answer our door to holidaymakers telling us they’ve booked our house!

  6. P.S. It’s been pointed out to me that, even if identified, if the scammers are outside the UK they can’t be brought to justice. They are just one of the myriad examples of the skulking evil which flourishes with impunity inside the World Wide Web.

  7. Shocking and cruel… and I agree with the other comments made here. I hope the perpetrators are found and made to pay for such inhumane unkindness to families who only wished to enjoy a festive short break away.

  8. This is typical of trusting Facebook, unfortunately this can also include almost anything! Ourselves were a victim of a rental scam, we even went to look at property, but couldn’t go inside due to a raft of excuses!!! I am now a cynical OAP who now has lost trust completely with anything on the internet!! Faceless criminals!!!

    • Carol – as a fellow cynical State Pensioner (I don’t subscribe to the Old Age brigade) I totally agree with your statement re online scams. In fact, Facebook and Instagram couldn’t care a jot who or what they promote, just as long as they receive payment for doing so. In fact, I have myself reported several blatantly ‘fake’ companies, only to be told by admin that the company has done nothing against their rules.

  9. It’s very important to deal with real people and please be very wary/suspicious of anything you see online. You don’t know them and can’t easily check them out. Obvious put like that but it is all too easy to fall for this sort of cold-hearted scam. I do hope the poor people get some redress, somehow.

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