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Monday Jan 07, 2013

Rental agent, deposits missing as Durban beach properties double booked

Durban turned out to be a road to nowhere for a number of Gauteng families, who discovered they had been scammed out of thousands of rand when they arrived in December.

Last week The Independent on Saturday ran a story highlighting the holiday disaster of the Torrington family who arrived in Salt Rock only to find their accommodation had allegedly been double-booked.

Now a number of angry upcountry holidaymakers have contacted the newspaper and it seems the holiday home had not only been double-booked, but one cottage had been booked for at least five different families from December 16 to January 3 - and there may be as many as 19 holiday homes involved in the scam.

Further investigation has revealed a former letting agent, Tammy Cook, has disappeared after allegedly taking deposits of anywhere between R25 000 and R50 000 from the five families.

Cook runs a website, North Coast Holidays, which lists 19 holiday homes along the North Coast.

The first victim, Graham Torrington, said they had planned a Christmas reunion with family and friends flying in from around the world. Their Salt Rock holiday accommodation cost R54 000. When they arrived, they found another family already there.

Bridget Gibson from White River said they had suffered a similar fate. "When we arrived, we found another family there. It was such a shock to arrive for your holiday that you have looked forward to all year, only to find you have to find alternative accommodation at the last minute."

She had paid R18 000 deposit and her parents had viewed the holiday cottage with Cook prior to arrival.

Another victim, Jaco Lotz from Gauteng, said he and his family, plus three large dogs, had arrived, to find another family in their booked cottage.

He had paid R43 500 upfront and had even checked out the home when in Durban on business.

"It was a disaster and when we went to the police, they told us another couple from Botswana had the same experience," said Lotz.

He added he managed to find Cook's address, but when he got there, the house appeared to have been deserted.

"We had booked from December 14. When we arrived there was another family there, so we found alternative accommodation but only for two days and moved in on December 16. Then different families started arriving."

North Coast Holidays website has 19 holiday homes listed and the contact person was Keith Gibson who said he was the former partner of Cook, but had not seen her for six months and attempts to contact her had failed.

An owner of one of the listed cottages, who did not wish to be named, confirmed she used Cook as the agent, but had not received any money for the last four months.

"I have also heard about the double-bookings and that my property was rented when I was not even aware people were staying there.

"Who knows how many bookings have been made? She could have made well over a million rand over the holiday period," she said.

The owner added she has been unable to contact Cook.

Tourism KZN spokesperson, Lihle Dlamini, expressed concern: "We always advise visitors to check our TKZN website to ensure they are dealing with reputable organisations. They can also check with the local tourism authority."

The chairman of the provincial Community Tourism Association and of Umhlanga Tourism, Peter Rose, said he had not heard of this type of scam before.

"I would advise people to get hold of the local tourism office as they will be able to tell if letting agents are genuine or not."

SAPS spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed cases of fraud and theft had been opened at Umhlali and at Durban North SAPS and investigations were continuing.

The Independent on Saturday


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