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Austin couple warns about last minute short-term rental bookings after being burglarized

An Austin couple says they were burglarized by someone who rented their home for a weekend using vacation rental company, Turnkey. (CBS Austin)

An Austin couple says they were burglarized by someone who rented their home for a weekend using the vacation rental company Turnkey.

John and Trina DeCecco have been doing short-term rentals through Turnkey for several years and never had an issue until the weekend of January 13-15, when they say a man reserved their home at the last minute.

"Usually we have about a month or so before you have a booking or at least a couple of weeks out and this one was on a Thursday for a Saturday booking which is kind of short," said John DeCecco.

SXSW is one of the most popular times for Austinites to rent out their homes to visitors and the DeCecco's hope their experience can be a cautionary tale so others aren't taken advantage of.

"You know your own home and you come in and you say some SOB just came in and thought it was OK to take all my stuff," DeCecco said.

The couple returned home after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to discover everything from jewelry to WWII memorabilia was stolen from their home. They say the man used a stolen credit card to book the reservation.

"You feel violated you really do, and it's like at first I was just mad, aggravated as heck, and then I got to the point that I didn't even want to come home, and it just felt weird being here," DeCecco said.

DeCecco said he contacted Turnkey who told him they have a vetting process to make sure potential renters are who they say they are, but he wonders how this renter slipped through the cracks.

"If the process in place doesn't work you need to get it to where does work because these are people's homes," DeCecco said.

Turnkey CEO TJ Clark told CBS Austin, generally guests who rent homes are very respectful, but there are some things homeowners need to keep in mind.

"Make sure you don't attract someone who could be a bad element to stay in your home. That could turn into theft, it could also turn into a party which can damage the home. People are coming to SXSW and are here to have a good time so you have to be careful that you protect your home and also don't disrupt your neighbors," Clark said.

DeCecco said Turnkey suggested he and his wife put valuable belongings in a locked closet.

"Generally people ... it's a locked closet, they leave it alone they don't try to get in. This was a little different," DeCecco said.

When the couple returned home, they found the closets they locked their belongings in had been broken into, and all of their jewelry, guns and family heirlooms were gone.

"My dad has been dead since 1989 and mostly stuff they took was the last stuff I had of his and that stuff is gone," DeCecco said.

As is nearly every piece of jewelry John ever bought Trina over the last 43 years. "The first ring he ever gave me. It was hard. It's hard," Trina said.

She had plans to pass these pieces of jewelry down to their kids.

Clark said Turnkey uses an online vetting process called Ideology to identify potential renters.

"It asks you a series of questions about your background. They'll ask you what's the name of a street on which you never lived, what's a type of car you've never owned." Clark said.

Clark said in about three questions they can verify a person's identity, age and match it to the credit card, but he admits it won't stop every bad actor.

"In our particular case we have an incidence of damage or thefts to a home that's less than three in every 1,000 stays so while you can't completely eliminate it you can minimize it so it doesn't become a material occurrence," Clark said.

The DeCecco's are still hopeful they'll get some of their belongings back, but are heartbroken by what's been taken. And while this stuff may not mean anything to the person who took it, it means a lot to them.

"I'm realizing the depth of the memories of those certain pieces of jewelry," DeCecco said.

After all they've been through, the couple said they will still consider renting their home out in the future using Turnkey because of all of the positive experiences they've had.

"We have a great backyard with a pool and there are so many people who have left us the sweetest notes and how much they love the house. I know people have enjoyed the home and I like people to have a good time here," DeCecco said.

Moving forward, though, the couple said they will be leery of last minute bookings. And Clark agrees it's not the best idea.

"If someone has a stolen credit card they don't want to book something far in advance because they're nervous the card is going to be reported stolen and won't go through, so short notice bookings bring more risk," Clark said.

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