NEW ORLEANS -- For French Quarter resident Mercedes Whitecloud, it was an awkward encounter when she found someone trying to get through the door of her Royal Street home.
"(The person said she) was here for my (bed and breakfast) rental and she didn't believe me when I told her I didn't have a B&B rental, and she protested, and she said, 'I'll show you, I have the paperwork,'" Whitecloud said.
The paperwork -- like the entire deal -- was fake.
Here’s how it went down: someone posted an online ad for a weekend rental, used Whitecloud's address, and then collected money upfront from the unsuspecting tourist.
The tourist was out of luck, and the money.
Scams like this are nothing new in the French Quarter, but neighborhood groups say they’re happening more frequently. The thieves use either fake addresses or addresses to homes that are not really up for rent to pull of the swindle.
"I felt very badly for (the tourist) and I tried several different ways to convince her that I wasn't the perpetrator of this stunt," Whitecloud said.
In reality, the scam artists could be operating from anywhere.
"This is a transaction made completely over the Internet and you really have no recourse if there is a problem or you are completely scammed," said Meg Lousteau with the group, Vieux Carre Property Owners Residents and Associates. “I think the demand created by the Super Bowl is bringing the scam artists out of the woodwork on this."
One victim, Lisa Hernandez from the Washington, D.C. area, said she thought she was renting a place on Bourbon Street for the New Year’s Eve celebration a few weeks ago.
After working out the deal for months and paying up front, Hernandez quickly realized she had been taken for more than $2,400, once she met the real property owner.
"We knocked on the door and someone finally came and answered and they said that they had not seen someone like me in about three weeks, meaning this had happened to them before at the same address," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said, as her transaction unfolded, things didn’t quite seem right, but she proceeded.
"I started getting a little antsy, but I did not listen to my inner voice because it was just too good to be true, which, obviously it was," she said.
Lousteau says these fraudulent deals are byproducts of the growing illegal short-term rental market in the city. She said stepped up enforcement of that situation will put a dent in the scams.
"It's pervasive. It's growing, and every day we don't enforce, we're encouraging more people to get into this," Lousteau said.