CLEVELAND — A fake post on a national travel website that directed people to a Cleveland address has been removed after taking bookings for about a month.
The post, which had an address for a house on E. 147th Street, was on booking.com for nearly a month before it was removed between Aug. 22 and 23. News 5 originally reported the story on Aug. 22, when the address was still online attached to a fake post title and photos of a post from a popular online vacation rental company.
Linda Butts said her address was never intended to be posted online or available for booking.
"That's where you relax. That's where you start your days. That's where you end your days," she said about the upstairs apartment she shares with her daughter and grandchildren.
Butts realized there was an issue about two weeks ago when a man showed up at her door claiming he booked her apartment for a stay in Cleveland.
Nothing about the post was true.
"It says it has a pool on the premises. I don't have a water hose at this house, okay? So a pool is definitely out of the question," Butts said.
It didn't matter. People showed up to her house three times.
Butts said this is a failing for the national company.
"You never checked to see in any way, shape or form to see if it was an actual business," she said.
It took a representative from the company several days to respond to News 5's request for a comment. On Monday, in an email, the representative said "it's a rare occurrence" for a fake post to go up on the site.
But consumer advocacy groups said it could happen to anyone.
"I think people can often get caught up in the immediacy of a situation," said Ericka Dilworth with the Cleveland Chapter of the Better Business Bureau.
Dilworth said people need to take time before they book because sometimes the pictures are too good to be true.
"Everyone -- you need to catch your breath, take a step back and do some homework," she said.
Not only were the photos of the rental a mismatch for the address, so was the photo of the host.
The woman in a black and white portrait at the bottom of the page was not Butts.
News 5 did a reverse image search on Google Image and found it belonged to a videographer in Washington, D.C. named Maya Sugarman.
After an email from News 5 alerting Sugarman to the situation, she replied in an email saying, "It's a reminder that we need to hold third-party services accountable ... Unfortunately, catfishing is common and easy to do with so many images readily available on the internet. So it's also a reminder to always do your research as a consumer."
"For your own safety's sake, look at the reviews," she said.
Butts said she can't figure out how or why someone would target her for a fake post. The BBB recommends searching your name and address to see if it appears anywhere it shouldn't. Dilworth also said people should avoid paying with cash or a debit card, or if they're being asked to pay with gift cards.