Avoiding the Vacation Rental Scam

With a little due diligence and homework, you can save yourself the embarrassing predicament of being scammed. But if you are, it isn't necessarily all your fault. Scammers are smart, crafty, and innovative. I have often thought that if they put as much thought and effort into a legitimate enterprise as they do into scamming people, they would find honest success. Read below for information from some the country's leading consumer advocates to help you avoid being taken advantage of by crooks.

Some more advice from the pros:

Talk in PERSON or ON THE PHONE! Don't rely on text or email or messaging systems. Scammers don't want to talk to you. They can't answer questions about the house without research and it is hard to pretend they are someone else over the phone. And if they won't talk, walk away. Many sites like Expedia group sites (like Vrbo and HomeAway) and AirBnB don't allow you to speak with owners until you book. That is one reason they only allow using a credit card to book. It doesn't always protect you, but can help you recapture funds if you act fast.

Use a credit card. But be aware of credit card fraud. To protect yourself, never give out your credit card number. Insist on using a 3rd party processor like PayPal or Stripe. But even scammers know this and use credit card processors. They just act quickly to move money from account to account so that the fraud can't be traced or the money recaptured. Check with your credit card company for their policies and do your checking up with owners as soon as you can connect. If they ignore your requests to talk, cancel and call the credit card company quickly to recapture the charge.

Once you get connected, ask questions about the property you can see in pictures on the listing or on Google Maps. If the "owner" can't answer without hesitation, or puts you off (while looking it up online), be suspicious. Simple questions like, "How many can the dining room table seat?" or "How many burners does the stove have?" can be answered easily by the real owner, but maybe overlooked by a scammer. Ask several questions that you already know the answer to.

Use a legitimate site to book. Houfy verifies owners, but not all do. Even Vrbo and AirBnb don't always verify the owners. A new listing with no reviews and many unprofessional typos can mean that it hasn't been verified yet. Always be careful. Look at reviews, and judge if you believe they are legitimate or fake. Many rentals have a website or Facebook page too. Check the internet for the real site by searching by image. Right click on a picture and you may search everywhere the image shows up. If other sites have different owners listed, or different numbers, contact them all and alert them. Legitimate owners will get the fakes removed.

Avoid being scammed by a real owner, but a misrepresented listing. Reviews are essential in this. Everyone has heard of the shipping crate that was advertised as an AirBnB in Amsterdam. Close ups shots of nice bedding, with no outside shots, meant that it appeared to be a nice place to stay. But do you really want your "private bathroom" to be a porta-potty? Pictures can be deceiving. Look at them with a skeptical eye. And ask questions.

Most owners are real and their properties are too. But occasionally you may run into an unscrupulous owner who doesn't follow best practices. This means the owner may change pricing once you arrive and demand more money, try to put you in a different condo or home than was advertised, or change the terms of the rental. Having a rental agreement that lists the terms of the rental, amenities included and the address and/or condo number is essential to protect you. If they don't have one, or their listing doesn't specify the number, ask for verification BEFORE you finalize your reservation. Some owners of multiple properties or property managers have been known to use their BEST properties as bait. Be sure the property you are renting is the one you think you are renting. Of course, things happen and a property you rented may be unavailable due to accident or repair issues. But the honest owner or manager will always contact you immediately and offer either an upgrade, or refund with their explanation. If you feel scammed, notify the platform you used and leave an honest, factual review.

If it is too good to be true, than it is too good to be true. Use open records and internet searches to find the information you need to verify the address, identity, and quality of your prospective rental. But most of all, verify the good deal is still inline with the market. When a scammed guest showed up to our rental during prime rental season, they thought they had gotten the deal of a lifetime. They saw it listed for five times what the scammer was asking for. They communicated by text message with him and thought he was just a compassionate and caring person who wanted to do them a huge favor. They traveled 1,500 miles, across the country, to show up to a home that wasn't available. Their "good deal" meant they were out the money they paid, and ended up paying even more to find accommodations. Not a deal at all. They had a fake rental agreement, copies of emails through Craigslist, bank wire receipts, all brought with them due to a "gut feeling" as the scammer was no longer returning calls and the number was no longer in service. The police were unable to help. Do your homework and trust your gut.

If you are looking for a great vacation rental, for the best price, use Houfy. There are no service fees and you have direct communication with verified owners.

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