How to Spot Vacation Rental Scams
It’s not enough that the weather is unpredictable and can turn on a dime in summer, ruining the blessed week of vacation that you had planned for months. Along with mosquitoes, poison ivy, and jellyfish, there are scammers hoping to dupe you out of your hard-earned money. Rental scams shot up more than 15 percent last year, ruining the vacations that many people had planned for their families. You must be very careful when you are going to the holiday (especially when travelling within the US).
If you’re looking on a craigslist-type of online bulletin board where anyone can post an ad without being vetted in any way, you’re taking a risk right out of the gate. Paid vacation rental sites offer some insurance in case you get ripped off, and the uniformity of the process provides some security.
Spend some time scrutinizing the property listing and compare it to others in the area: is the price too good to be true? Are there several good photos of the accommodation, both inside and outside? Is there some element of urgency, such as “special price book now!” involved? Those are red flags that indicate a possible scam.
Beware of listings that have just a few out-of-focus photos and a scant description. Some scammers will duplicate another person’s rental listing by copying photos and text, then pasting them on another website with different contact information, setting up an easy scam. If you’re suspicious that a listing may be fake, do a reverse search on the photo or location to determine if it’s listed in another place, perhaps by the legitimate owner.
Things to look for in reviews written by past renters:
- reviews that mention specific aspects of the property
- repeated concerns or issues raised in reviews, such as an inability to reach the landlord, or toilets backing up
- discussion of miscommunication with the landlord
- comments about cleanliness
- beware of any “canceled by owner” situations – this could be due to serious problems with the property or an owner who is not trustworthy
- an absence of reviews is a red flag
On established rental websites there’s an option to transact business through the website using a credit card for your deposit and full payment. This protects you from scammers in two ways: the website host assumes some responsibility for making sure the rental listings are legitimate and your credit card company will likely reimburse you in the event of a ripoff.
Avoid rental listings that want cash deposits up front or funds wired from your account. This is a simple scam that often results in the scammer walking away with your money and no rental for you.
Get the rental contract before submitting a deposit, this is another sign of a legitimate transaction rather than a fly-by-night ripoff. The contract should delineate the cancellation policy and refund policy.
Are you able to contact the owner to ask questions and clarify details? The owner should be open and helpful and able to answer questions with specificity. Ask questions beyond the number of bedrooms and bathrooms – ask about his availability if there are issues, how long he has been renting the house, what the neighborhood is like, and what else is in the area. If the owner has trouble answering these questions or providing specifics it could be a red flag.
Do your homework
If the rental is located within a resort or condo village, can you read reviews of other rentals in the same location to determine if it’s the right place for you? Can you contact a property manager onsite to ensure that the person renting to you is legitimate?
Get the exact address of the rental and use an online map to locate it. With Google maps it’s possible to match the listing with an actual street view photo of the area in many places.
Use other online resources such as news articles and business reviews to flesh out a profile of the location and decide if it’s for you. If you read closely, you can often determine the approximate crime rate, noise levels, and distance to attractions to determine if it’s a good fit.