Don’t let your dream become a nightmare; Rentini’s got your back!
The horror stories are all over the Internet. Travelers piling out of a taxi, tired and disheveled, but happy and excited because they’ve reached their destination and are about to begin the vacation they’ve been dreaming about. The door opens…to a rude awakening.
“This house?” says the shocked resident. “This house isn’t even for rent!” The dumbfounded travelers learn too late that the sizable sum of money they had paid for a vacation rental is now in the pocket of some scam artist, and they’re left scrambling to make other plans.
Vacation rentals, by their very nature, offer fertile ground for scam artists. Transactions necessarily take place long-distance, and deals are made on the basis of a description and a few photographs. Thousands of dollars may change hands before the renter arrives at the destination.
The scams are easy enough to set up. A fake email account, photos and a description swiped from a sales listing on a real estate website, a bit of creative writing- and a con artist can simply sit back and wait for the fish to bite.
Scammers love classified ad sites like Craigslist.org and Backpages.com, where people come in search of bargains and oversight is limited or nonexistent. They frequently target high-end destination markets- South Beach, New York City, Paris- to maximize their profits, and offer tempting below-market-rate deals on stunning homes.
On the other side of the transaction, homeowners may be targeted too, by prospective “renters” who contrive deals typically involving a cashier’s check that’s written for a larger amount than the deposit for some plausible-sounding reason. The plan is changed, the homeowner refunds the overage in good faith- and a few days later the check turns out to have been a fake in the first place.
Using “phishing” techniques, scammers crack log-in info for email and such sites as Homeaway and VRBO; an unsuspecting homeowner may never realize that all the inquiries they looked forward to getting about their lovely home are being sucked through an Internet black hole to John’s Happy Acres Homestay, whereupon John promptly coerces the unknowing travelers into paying by wire transfer for a hot last-minute bargain.
Protecting yourself starts with the time-honored rule that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But not every scam rental is a glaring fake. When you’ve found a place that looks good to you, investigate before you offer any personal information- email asking for more details and photos, establish phone contact with the homeowner or agent, and see if you can verify ownership information for the address- Google Maps or MapQuest can verify that an address actually exists.
A Google search for the address may also reveal whether or not a property is listed for sale through an entirely unrelated owner and broker- real estate listings are a common source for the photos and details that scammers use to create fake ads.
Be wary of requests for payment by Western Union, money order or bank-to-bank transfer. You’re safest paying by credit card.
Here at Rentini, we have safeguards in place to help you plan your voyage or rent your property with confidence. We stay on top of the latest crime trends and work to keep our site a safe place, and we must be doing something right- not one Rentini member has been defrauded or “phished.”
Some of our safeguards include:
• Homeowners have the option of establishing a merchant account that requires a thorough credit check through a US bank.
• Rentini keeps addresses private until a guest decides to book. We recommend that both parties perform due diligence- and we’re here to answer any questions you may have about how to do so, or about our safeguards. Got a question we haven’t already answered? Feel free to contact us.
• If a homeowner has not established a merchant account, Rentini holds your rental payment until 24 hours after check-in. Unpleasantly surprised? Contract violated? Don’t worry, you’ll get your money back.
• Our social connect feature personalizes the relationship between homeowner and guest, adding transparency to your transaction that’s impossible to achieve via email or even phone. Rentini members, unlike random classified ad posters, have profiles and reputations to uphold.
• Rentini accepts only verified reviews from guests who’ve used our service and actually stayed in the home they’re reviewing. If you read it on Rentini, it’s nonfiction!
For more information on how to protect yourself online, please check the following sources:
Get Safe Online
Photo credits, Flickr Creative commons, from top:
Luxury Homes in San Antonio, by ghhomebuying
Online Fraud, by Don Hankins