As the vacation rental industry has swelled recently, so too have those seeking to exploit the surge in commerce. This has occurred in many forms – the proliferation of scams, theft or abuse of property, streaks in burglaries, etc.
THEFT, ABUSE, and BULGLARIES
Just this past week a string of burglaries targeted vacation rentals in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, and in Leisure Lakes in Highlands County, Florida. The burglars made off with electronics, jewelry, and even ate food meant for guests in an apparent effort to energize for their next “job”. These are only a couple of recent examples. The fact is that vacation rentals are vulnerable to crime because they are not regularly occupied. Criminals, often locals, scope out vacation homes as prime opportunities to “hit” up.
Vacation homes offer opportunities for criminals. Vacationers can sometimes be careless about security, and particularly in warm climates and seasons, can leave windows and doors open, providing easy access for criminals. Guests may spend most of their time away from the home and forget to lock up. Perpetrators that have been convicted of burglarizing vacation homes sometimes turn out to be those with privileges and special access, anyone from maintenance or housekeeping to groundskeepers and pool guys to rental agents. While the majority of these professionals are trustworthy, you’ll want to have checks in place (background checks, personal references, familiarity) and otherwise establish trust that they won’t betray you by stealing from you and your guests. This applies to individual homeowners just as it does to property managers.
Security systems including cameras at entrances and subdivisions are useful deterrents that may help build a case later. Leasing agents should also be more accountable to controlling information. Really, though, the whole community needs to be watchful and help each other out. Remember, you have power in numbers!
Sometimes crimes can be more ridiculous and petty. A friend of mine running a vacation rental in Maui had guests break into his locked cabinet and steal some (some, mind you, not all) of the soap bars stored there. They also cracked his granite counter top (cha-ching!).
There is the now infamous case of a guest ransacking a woman’s home in SF. It wasn’t a vacation rental, mind you, but still. Property damage is a crime, as is petty theft. So, if this occurs, document the damages or loss of property with photo evidence and…do what you must!
SCAMS and CYBER-CRIME
The vacation rental industry has been rocked by criminals doing anything to get between you and your money, often by purporting to be the homeowner and arranging a deal with unsuspecting guests. Usually this occurs through a tactic called “phishing”.
According to Wikipedia, phishing is:
“the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing emails may contain links to websites that are infected with malware. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to deceive users, and exploits the poor usability of current web security technologies. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.”
Perhaps more than any other rental service, VRBO has been targeted by phishing scams. Its classified listing style lends itself to fraudulent activity by those purporting to be the homeowners. Typically the criminals will come up with a pretext as to why they need to be wired money ASAP, such as it being a last minute deal or because they’re going out of town and it’d be more convenient.
(For more information, please see the following article: http://blog.rentini.com/2012/07/30/the-truth-about-vacation-rental-scams-and-how-to-avoid-them/)
What have we missed?
There are countless scams out there targeting vacation rentals – the industry is being watched not just by those interested in their stocks but by criminals looking for an easy dollar. Tell us about your experience so that the community shares their stories and bands together to combat this from happening to others!
(For more information on how to protect yourself online, please explore the following sources:
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