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Monday Jan 14, 2013

Woman held for holiday property swindle

North Coast mother of two Tammy Cook, who allegedly "double-booked" scores of holidaymakers before doing a "runner", was arrested in Durban on Saturday after a tip-off from a reader as to her whereabouts.

The reader, who did not wish to be identified, said he was shocked to read in The Independent on Saturday about his friend Cook's alleged involvement in holiday disasters, where up to four families were booked into one holiday home for the same time period.

Large booking deposits had been paid to Cook, who disappeared.

The reader contacted the newspaper and Cook was arrested at a Morningside flat around midday.

A witness at the scene said the flat contained a number of laptops and widescreen televisions.

Cook appeared in Stanger Court on Tuesday morning and has been remanded in custody until a formal bail hearing next week at the Umhlali Magistrate's Court.

After the story, which also appeared in sister title The Saturday Star in Gauteng, there was a flood of e-mails on the "double-bookings scam", as well as complaints lodged on consumer website Hellopeter.

While the original complaints over double bookings centred on a holiday cottage in Salt Rock, several more unhappy holidaymakers came forward this week with similar experiences about a holiday home booked in Shaka's Rock through Tammy Cook.

Jenny Bunge of Gauteng said: "When we arrived on December 15, we were trying to get keys to the house when another family arrived, saying they had paid for two weeks' accommodation."

As the Bunges had booked through a holiday letting website, which had used Cook, Bunge said she had been fully refunded.

And in a twist to the tale, the Dolphin Coast SPCA confirmed that they rescued three dogs from Cook's rented home in Zinkwazi.

It is believed Cook fled with her children on or around December 15 and about three to four days later, neighbours noticed the property appeared to have been abandoned.

The Dolphin Coast SPCA were called in by angry Zinkwazi residents and they have confirmed three dogs were taken in for safe-keeping.

It is believed two cats were also at the property. At the time of being rescued there was no water or food available for the animals.

Readers also sent e-mails regarding similar scams on the KZN North Coast over the holiday period, including in Umhlanga, Blythedale Beach and Prince's Grant, indicating such scams could be a problem for the tourism industry.

North Coast letting agent Engela Wium said clients should check an agent's credentials before parting with any money.

"When making a booking, check that the agent has a fidelity fund certificate and a trust fund into which monies would be deposited."

Meanwhile, it was reported this week that a driving licence examiner died of a heart attack during the festive season when he arrived in Cape Town on holiday, only to find his accommodation had been doublebooked.

Joe Mthembu, 46, and three friends had paid the Notel International Hotel in Camps Bay a R19 000 deposit for accommodation for themselves and their families over the New Year holiday period.

When they arrived at Cape Town International Airport from Johannesburg they learnt that their rooms had been double-booked.

Mthembu suffered a heart attack after trying for about eight hours to make alternative arrangements.

He died in hospital with his wife and his child at his bedside.

The Independent on Saturday

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