A bedbug hoax is targeting foreign visitors in Athens. Now the Greek police have been called in

FILE - A bedbug is displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, March 30, 2011. Greeces health ministry is seeking police help against hoaxers who tried to scare foreign tourists out of several Athens short-term rental flats by inventing a bedbug crisis. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Carolyn Kaster, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ATHENS – Greece's health ministry is seeking police help against hoaxers who tried to scare foreign tourists out of some Athens short-term rental apartments by inventing a bedbug crisis.

A ministry statement Tuesday said the posters stuck up outside apartment buildings in the city center, festooned with fake ministry and Athens municipality logos, were “absolutely false.”

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The posters, addressed to “dear visitors” in misspelled English, claimed health authorities had ordered local “private guesthouses” evacuated “to protect the public health of permanent Greek tenants.”

Citing a nonexistent bedbug infestation, they threatened visitors with a 500-euro fine ($540) for failure to leave their accomodation, and politely wished them a pleasant stay in Greece.

In addition to a cost-of-living crisis, Athens and other parts of Greece face housing problems largely caused by the proliferation of short-term rental apartments — mainly for foreign visitors.

That has helped fuel a surge in long-term rental costs for Greeks, many of whom are priced out of residential areas in central Athens. Property values are also spiraling, in part because of a “golden visa” program offering residence to foreign property investors.

Tourism is a key driver of Greece's economy, accounting for a fifth of annual output, and 2023 is expected to be a record year for arrivals.

The health ministry said Tuesday that it has informed the police “to do what is necessary” about the hoax. It said that “nobody is allowed to terrorize and misinform the public” on public health issues.

Greece hasn't recorded any major trouble with the bloodsucking creepy-crawlies that recently caused consternation in France.