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How to Spot a Vacation Rental Scam

How to Spot a Vacation Rental Scam

| May 06, 2021

Looking forward to a much-needed vacation is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s fun to look at all the rental properties available. What you may not know is that not all the listings or rental agents may be real. Here are some red flags to help you spot the frauds.

Things You Should Know

Fraudsters are crafty, creating fake websites and ads for properties that don’t exist. They’ll even promise military discounts and other incentives to lure people in. Some scammers steal real ads, changing the email address or contact information and then posting them on a different website. Others boldly pose as rental agents, using stolen keys to gain access to properties. And, still others offer properties for rent that have already been rented to others.

Their favorite places to operate also include vacation rental platforms like Airbnb or Vrbo. Some of the problems travelers have reported include:

  • being tempted with luxurious surroundings and amenities, then finding out the rental is located in a sketchy neighborhood and/or it’s in rundown condition
  • receiving reservation cancellations less than 24 hours before arrival, with no offer of a complete refund
  • getting a last-minute notice of a problem and offer of an alternative property the host owns—which turned out to be in terrible condition
  • arriving at a vacation destination only to find that the property doesn’t exist

Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Now that you’re armed with information on some of these scammers’ favorite ploys, you can protect yourself. As a general rule, while you’re evaluating your choices, be wary of options that seem too good to be true. Here are more tips.

  • Make sure there are more ways to contact the owner or agent than just email.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into a decision.
  • Ask questions about the area like places to eat and the distance to beaches or amusements. This will help you tell how well the listing agent knows the area.
  • Investigate the rental company with searches that include “review,” “complaint” or "scam.” If you find negative comments, consider looking elsewhere.
  • Make sure the address is real. Check the address using Google Map’s street view. Does the property match the picture in the listing? If it’s a resort or hotel, call the front desk to verify the information. If it’s a private home, check the name of the property owner in public records.
  • Don’t pay for rentals by wire transfer, prepaid or gift cards, or apps like Venmo. These types of transactions can’t be reversed if the rental offer is fraudulent.
  • Never give out personal information like account numbers or Social Security Numbers. Some fraudsters will offer to deduct the cost directly from your bank account, so keep your personal information secure.
  • Be skeptical of last-minute alternatives if you’re told there’s a problem with the space you rented. If you’re using a platform like Airbnb, make sure the host cancels, so you’re not charged additional fees. Ask the platform—instead of the host—to find you alternatives.

Finally, before you use a vacation rental platform, make sure it offers a 100% guest refund guarantee. Visit trusted travel websites to read customer reviews and see photos. And, feel free to ask for more photos, because a scammer probably can’t provide them. Pay with a credit card―on the rental website―not by email or through a third-party website or service, and don’t pay anything before you have a contract.