Mom’s warning of ‘terrifying’ Facebook holiday scam after being scammed by ‘sociopaths’

School teacher Catriona Morgan thought she was booking a short break in Donegal, Ireland but soon realized she was being scammed and has now warned others to watch out for similar problems

Catriona was looking forward to a well-deserved vacation when the scammers struck
Catriona was looking forward to a well-deserved vacation when the scammers struck

A mother has issued a harsh warning to holidaymakers hoping to travel to Ireland after losing £250 in a sophisticated Facebook scam.

Schoolteacher Catriona Morgan thought she would put the money down as a deposit for a week’s stay at a holiday home in Donegal with a hot tub after coming across an advert on Facebook Marketplace.

The Derry native thought she had found a “good deal” and was hoping for a “much needed family break” after her brother, sister-in-law and children moved to Derry from Australia.

But she now believes she was betrayed by a “proper sociopath.”

The alleged owner, who continues to market the same property online, has yet to be formally identified, reports BelfastLive.

When Catriona got in touch, he told her it was his parents’ house that he would not be able to use this summer after his father was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment.

Donegal is a popular tourist destination


Getty Images/Westend61)

Catriona said it all seemed “real” until April 1, when her husband noticed another Facebook post.

“I thought my husband was joking at first because it was an April Fool’s joke, but then he pointed out to me someone who was in a similar situation that didn’t add up,” she said.

“I realized it was his name that was on the list on Facebook and I knew then it was a scam.

“I was devastated because it was the first time my parents would see all of their grandchildren together.

“And what’s scary about all of this now is that he came across as a very nice person who just wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible.

“He talked to you as if you were someone he knew. He spoke about his father undergoing cancer treatment and how he hoped the treatment went well.

“It’s very strange now, looking back.”

The scammer claimed to be offering a week’s stay at a house in Donegal at a bargain price


(Getty Images)

Catriona wasn’t the only one who fell for such a scam. Helen, a mother of two, also from Derry, suffered the same fate when she booked a holiday in Donegal after stumbling across a similar advert.

She contacted the scammer in March with a request to use the vacation home for seven days beginning July 16. Speaking to MyDerry, she explained her heartbreaking ordeal.

Helen said: “My sister and I rented a house through another website last year and it cost £600. To see this house we decided to at least inquire about it.

“That’s when I decided to text him and he got back to me pretty quickly but he wasn’t a yes man.

“He was very cautious about the whole thing and that’s what makes this situation so bizarre. He essentially played a role, which makes it even more terrifying.

“That was extremely clever of him because I thought he wasn’t a scammer. He even told me he wanted to make a phone call.”

The property is believed to be genuine and those concerned said it belonged to a woman in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal. They said the woman had “nothing to do” with the scam and was losing business as a result.

After the deposit was paid, the scammer and Helen agreed to meet at a pub in Bunbeg, Co Donegal after Helen asked to see the property.

She added: “When I told him this he was able to give me details about the area and told me he could meet me at a local pub and that he was good friends with the barman named Mickey.

“When I arrived there was no bartender named Mickey. No one could think of the house I was describing when I got there. It wasn’t the first time I did that. I actually went to Bunbeg twice to meet him and he didn’t show up on either occasion.

“He seems like a real sociopath. It felt like he was enjoying himself.”

The two victims spotted the ad for the house on Facebook Marketplace


Getty Images/Tetra images RF)

The PSNI, which was contacted about the incident, said it reported the scam to Action Fraud.

Scamwise NI Partnership Chairman, Police Service of Northern Ireland Superintendent Gerard Pollock said: “As we are all more eager to go on holiday after spending two years without a holiday, criminals are also more eager than ever to to get our hands on our money .

“We know criminals are gearing up for the summer with tailor-made vacation scams, so we encourage everyone to do their research properly when booking vacation plans online.

“Holiday scams usually start with an advertisement on the internet or on a social media platform. However, there are important ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of these scams.

A beautiful stretch of coast in County Donegal


Getty Images/Lonely Planet image)

“Research about the business or property you want to book – don’t just rely on one website or one review. If a company is fake, there’s a good chance others will write about their experiences online as well.

“Look for the logo, check if the company is a member of ABTA and if you book a flight, check if it is ATOL approved.

“Never pay by bank transfer – the safest payment method is by credit card and if possible avoid paying by bank transfer to someone you do not know or have not met in person.

“If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

If you have been the victim of fraud report it to the police on 101, to your bank immediately, online at or by calling 0300 123 2040.

You can also find information and advice on or on the ScamwiseNI Facebook page @scamwiseni.

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