Staying in a great vacation rental is something that everyone should experience. When you stay in a secluded home or urban apartment, you have the opportunity to feel like a local while relaxing, rejuvenating, and exploring a new area. At Tripping.com, we want to make sure that you have a positive experience from the very beginning of your search for the perfect rental. We encourage you to take the following precautions when booking a vacation rental so that you can relax that much sooner.
In the past three years, vacation rental scams have become increasingly common across the United States. One of the biggest causes of scams is through online networks where users can post and respond to listings, rather than through secure vacation rental websites like Tripping.com. Every year, we hear incredibly sad stories about people who lost large amounts of money on a fake vacation rental that they were excited about. Fortunately, these mistakes can be avoided if you take extra care during your search for the perfect rental.
Follow our easy advice as you research and plan your vacation, so that you can relax sooner!
One Side Of The Scam: Homeowners
John and Martha, a retired couple from Florida, recently went to Craigslist to browse apartments for their daughter. But they noticed something strange - someone had posted photos of their vacation rental on Craigslist!
John and Martha didn’t create the listing on Craigslist. Their property was being used by scammers and they were instantly worried about the safety implications for themselves, their guests, and the unsuspecting guests who were in touch with the scam artists.
Martha and John immediately reported the post to Craigslist and posted their own listing to warn others that the original listing was fraudulent. They also decided to contact the person who had created the listing, pretending to be interested in the rental. The “owner” replied, asking for a deposit to be made via wire transfer or check. Once the request was sent, John and Martha reported the fraudulent money request to the wire transfer service. By being proactive, they were able to resolve the issue.
The Other Side Of The Scam: Renters
Kelly found herself on the other side of a rental scam when she found an amazing place to stay in Washington, D.C. for a young professionals’ development conference. It was a huge property for an incredible price, and located right in the heart of downtown. Everything seemed okay - until she arrived at the property and the owners had no idea who she was or why she was standing at their front door. She had to find a hotel in the area, taking a big chunk out of her savings account. Consequently and unfortunately, she was forced to cancel her end-of-year vacation to Thailand because the scam was expensive and cut into her travel budget.
The overwhelming majority of vacation rentals bookings lead to positive experiences. To help travelers like Kelly, the FBI and local authorities routinely release notifications to vacation rental areas to warn residents and generate increased awareness around potential scams.
To ensure that you’re booking a legitimate vacation rental, use websites like Tripping.com and our trusted list of partners (which include VRBO, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and more). These sites do everything in their power to ensure that the properties are legitimate and safe, they typically offer booking guarantees, and they offer customer service support to help resolve unlikely issues. However, if you choose to use a different booking method, here are some tips to make sure that you have a great vacation.
FOLLOW THESE 7 EASY TIPS To Avoid Vacation Rental Scams
Here are seven signs that you may be interacting with a scammer as you look for vacation rentals. These tips can prevent you from being the victim of a vacation rental scam the next time you make a booking.
If you are careful as you plan your trip, you will avoid scams and have a stress-free vacation.
1. The price is too good to be true
It’s always thrilling to find a great discount, especially if you’re on a tight budget and are hoping to go on a vacation that’s long enough to let you really relax. However, don’t get too excited before checking the prices of the other properties nearby. Your rental should not be too far below the prices of similar rentals in the area, and if it is, ask yourself (and the owner) why that is the case.
2. The owner sends you an email from a personal address
It’s best to keep your conversations within your account on a vacation rental website, because then the companies have a record of the messages and can help you if anything goes wrong. Any time you receive an email about your vacation rental inquiry, check the address of the sender. Scammers will try to replicate emails from legitimate companies, but you can tell whether or not it’s real by looking at their email address. Something like “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org” should raise a red flag: if you’re inquiring about a property on a vacation rental website, the email should come from that website - not something like Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail.
3. The owner asks for an unusual payment method
When you are in contact with someone who is pretending to be the owner, they might request over personal email that you pay via money order or wire transfer - these are signs to run the other direction. NEVER give out your credit card information over email if someone asks. Only use your credit card on a legitimate vacation rental website, and be sure to read emails requesting payment extra carefully.
4. The owner asks you for personal information
If the owner wants a scan of your passport or driver’s license, or requests your Social Security Number for verification, do not give out this information. Rental companies should not request information to verify identity over email.
5. Do your research
Check to make sure that the address appears in Google maps, that the reviews look genuine, and that the host sounds like a real person. Type the rental owner’s name into a search engine if you’d like, to see if anything shows up. Also, check to see if the property is listed on other vacation rental websites, and if any information is different.
6. Report suspicious behavior
You can report suspicious behavior in most cases. Contact your credit card company if you’ve been the victim of a fraudulent charge, or PayPal if you recognize a scammed money request. On Craigslist, you can flag a post as spam and post your own listing with information about the scam to keep others aware. You can also contact Craigslist directly to describe the issue and your concern. Additionally, vacation rental websites all have their own customer service departments and they can help you with anything that you need. This is why you should always handle the transaction via the official website - if you correspond directly with the property owner offline or over personal email, the website’s customer service team won’t be able to help if problems arise.
7. Trust your instinct
Is the listing or the owner’s emails filled with broken English? Does something just not feel right and you can’t put your finger on it? If so, trust your instinct. After all, this is your vacation and you should feel at ease before, during, and after. There are lots of great vacation rentals out there, so try looking for a few more - you may find something that looks even better! If you arrive to a vacation rental and feel unsafe, do not hesitate to call the local police or leave the area to find a different place to stay. Remember, no amount of money is worth the compromise of your safety!
Of course, there are exceptions to these rules - if a friend of a friend is renting their place, for example, you may feel very comfortable talking through the details over personal email and writing them a check. Or a relative of yours might refer you to a great rental owner over email and you’ll take it from there. Just make sure that you feel comfortable and that there’s a personal connection in these cases to help you feel assured.
For more information about vacation rental scams and how to stay alert and safe, you may find it helpful to refer to the following websites:
- FBI information about online rental scams
- FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center
- Craigslist’s advice for avoiding scams
- Report a scam on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website
- FTC information about safe wire transfers
- How to report credit card fraud
- Customer service contact information for vacation rental companies
Have you had an experience with vacation rental scams? Tell us about it in the comments below.