Staying on Top of Fraud When Booking Your Vacation Rental
You’re a modern-day hero. You’re taking the whole family on vacation, and because you dealt directly with the owner, you saved a bundle on your rental. All you had to do was pay in advance. A deal this good, after all, isn’t going to last.
When you arrive, after dark and in the cold, you find out the condo doesn’t actually exist. The Craigslist ad has disappeared, and no one is answering the number in the email you contacted. Now you have a car full of tired kids and nowhere to stay. You’ve gone from hero to zero in two seconds flat.
Home-sharing websites like AirBnB and VRBO as well as online classified sites have revolutionized the short term rental market. By dealing directly with homeowners, you can save on management fees and find some cool and unique places to stay. But they’ve also opened the door for scammers looking to take your money in exchange for a place that doesn’t exist. Here are a few tips to help keep this from happening to you.
In the simplest terms, scammers post an ad for a property that they either don’t own or it simply doesn’t exist, then ask you to pre-pay using a wire transfer, cash or check. You show up to a property that you didn’t rent, while they take the money and run. There are two common methods of doing this: pull random photos from the internet and create a fictitious property, or copy an existing listing—sometimes as far as impersonating the owner’s online profile—and post it as their own.
How to Protect Yourself
• Use Common Sense
If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are a few simple guidelines to help keep your money safe and save your vacation.
• Don’t Ever Wire Money or Prepay with a Check or Gift Card
No reputable renter will ever ask you to pay upfront with a transfer, cash or check. If you can’t reserve the place with a credit card, it’s likely a scam. And once your money is in the hands of the scammer, it’s very hard to get back.
• Book Through a Reputable Site
The safest path is to book through an established property management firm with a history in the area. Mountain Luxury has been in business for 15 years and has a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor with more than 60 reviews. AirBnB and VRBO also add a layer of security by handling credit card transactions for you. If the listing is only available on Craigslist or in the local classifieds, that’s a red flag.
• Double Check Your Rental
Google the address to make sure the property actually exists, that it is the one represented and that it isn’t listed under a different owner. Added bonus: you may find a better rate. Property management companies will sometimes list properties on sites like AirBnB and VRBO, with the site’s fees tacked on.
• Take your Time
Don’t be rushed into a decision. If an owner really has a slew of renters lined up ready to take the property, it would already be rented. Ask for additional photos (a legitimate owner will likely have these on hand), check other listings, google the address. Do your due diligence.
• Pick up the Phone
Don’t rely on email. If there’s a number listed with the property, give it a call. You’ll know that the owners are real, get a feel for them, and maybe learn something about the property you didn’t from the online listing.
If you feel you’ve come across a fraudulent ad, even if you didn’t fall victim, the federal government encourages you to report them. Click here to learn more.