Fraudsters often lift a legitimate ad from websites like Craigslist and add a bargain-basement rental price and a fake email address to reel you in. More sophisticated scammers create a website or Facebook page with photos, descriptions, information on local attractions, even testimonials from other, but fake “renters”.
Warning signs the vacation rental is a scam
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Too good to be true, that is.
- If you are asked to wire money or send money by prepaid debit card.
- Be wary if an owner lives in a country other than where the rental property is located.
- If there is no telephone number listed anywhere and the only way you can reach the renter is via email.
- If the condo or house does not show up on a Google search, or several miles from where the renter said it is located.
- If the condo or house shows up on a Google image search with a different owner or manager than the one offering you the rental.
- Never respond to an unsolicited email rental offer, which could be a phishing scheme intended to steal your identity or load malware or ransomware on your computer.
How to protect yourself
Protect yourself by using a travel agency, a resort’s own rental service, or well-known rental websites like VRBO, which stands for “for rent by owner”, HomeAway and FlipKey, which check out rental offers before they are allowed on the site, and check reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp.
But even that isn’t foolproof.
Recently, I rented a condo through a resort website for a three-generation family ski-snowboard vacation. The website showed photos of well-designed, modern accommodations, but did not say that these were individually owned, decorated and maintained condos, and neither did the rental agent I spoke with on the resort’s toll-free 800 number.
The unit we got included a malfunctioning refrigerator that ruined all our groceries, shredded window coverings that did not block outside light, bedspreads that appeared not to have been laundered since the Year One, and only one dresser, one closet and no other storage space for a two bedroom condo supposed to sleep six.
It was a nightmare, despite the appealing images on the resort’s own website.
Since the condo was sold out for that week, a school holiday, we could not be moved to another unit. The managing agent offered us a credit for our next stay, which cost them nothing, since obviously we would never return, instead of a discount such as one free night on our current stay.
Questions to ask before you rent a vacation condo or home
- Is there a management office available 24/7 for a problem or question
- Does the owner live here at any time during the year, or is this exclusively a rental property
- Will the renter put you in touch with a happy previous renter
- Never respond to emails coffering vacation rentals to avoid common phishing schemes. As I wrote on ecoXplorer, beware also of phone calls or emails offering a free Caribbean cruise, since these also are frauds.
If you’ve been scammed, notify local law enforcement and the Attorney General of the state where the rental is located.
Have you had an unhappy summer vacation rental experience? Share it in comments, below.