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Vacation Rental Scam: Detect and Prevent

Scammed in Vacation Rental

Recently, we have been hearing more and more about occurrences of vacation rental scam. This news is not only harmful to owners, but also to the industry as a whole. We want to arm you with essential tools to identify common tactics and take preventative measures before it is too late. We wrote about some of this before and then again but still wanted to keep you in a loop on the latest news and measures.

Let’s face it, emails written in broken English, requesting a wire transfer to Africa, are a thing of the past. Today’s fraudulent schemes have become much more sophisticated, but don’t fret. Whether you are a traveler, homeowner or property manager, the following tips are crucial to consider:

INITIAL RED FLAGS (PERHAPS IT’S AN ONLINE SCAM)

  • If a payment is requested through a wire transfer service such as MoneyGram or Western Union or there is a request for a cashiers check, you should investigate further.
  • If the deal seems too good to be true for the type of accommodation and the area, it should raise a red flag.
  • If the only way to contact the owner is via email and no phone number was provided or no one ever answers the number given, you should immediately question the credibility of the source.
  • If the emails you receive have obvious English grammar errors, you should investigate further.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK TO IDENTIFY VACATION RENTAL SCAM

  • Do your due diligence and complete a background check on the owner and rental.
  • Conduct Google and social media searches.
  • Check reviews from past clients.
  • Become familiar with most common vacation rental scam scenarios and make sure you don’t follow the same trap.

We have outlined a few scenarios below.

Scam scenario #1: 

A Great Deal Not to Miss, But The Property Doesn’t Exist

Craigslist Scam Alert about Waikiki Listings

A snapshot of a Scam Alert published on Craigslist

Vacation rental scams may not all display the most beautiful property photos, but they will typically offer a great discount to tempt potential visitors

If a great property is offered at half price with one condition that money must be sent via wire transfer, watch out. Just because they may be only asking for a deposit, it doesn’t mean it is not a scam.

Scammers accepting reservations many months in advance could collect 10%-50% of the total, multiple times, before anyone raises an alert. And, at the time when would-be travelers discover that the place simply doesn’t exist, it will be too late.

Back in June I received a call from a guy, urgently looked for same day accommodation. Distressed, he claimed he had just arrived to New York from San Diego, and learned he was the victim of a fraudster. He found a craigslist ad showing an amazing loft for rent in the heart of New York’s SoHo district and connected via phone with an advertiser who requested to wire him a one-night deposit of $140. The remainder of the balance was due at check-in. Unfortunately there was neither a check-in point nor anyone who knew the advertiser at the address provided. The traveler had to learn the hard way that even at a rate of $140 a customer, fraudsters exist.

Scam scenario #2:

The Property Is Real But The Rental Is Not

Scammed in Fort Myers Beach Vacation Rental plot

It goes like this:

Traveller: “Hello, we are here! We booked your house!”

Homeowner: “Really?”

Check out this Easter weekend case from Fort Myers Beach

Classified sites like Craigslist provide a plenty of room for misrepresentation. An advertiser could pretend they are someone else by supplying real names and addresses with legit profiles, hoping nobody will double check.

Here’s another incident when scammers poached information from a legitimate real estate website. A property manager had listed the property, but scammers fashioned a phony advertisement with an irresistible price tag:

Scam scenario #3:

Beware of Vacation Rental Phishing

 Vacation Rental - No phishing

Image a courtesy of Ann F Brundige

Those of us who follow the vacation-rental phishing saga are probably aware of this scenario:

  1. Emails exchange via email or a platform similar to VRBO
  2. Money wired via bank transfer
  3. No answer.

Phishing schemes fraudulently extract personal information by e-mail (the e-mail log-in credentials of a property owner). The fraudster then impersonates the owner, requiring customers to wire money.

Ann Schutte, who found a rental villa with a “million-dollar” view in Sedona, Arizona, through the rental web site VRBO.com, became a victim of such phishing plot.

HomeAway, which owns VRBO and other vacation rental web sites, reported 3,000 phishing cases as of last fall.

Still unsure if any of those scenarios applies to you?

Take a rental scam quiz to evaluate your chances of being scammed. This quiz urges you to evaluate possible scenarios and run a reality check.

Rental Scam Detection Quiz

In summary, don’t forget the three simple steps below, great preventative measures against scammers:

  1. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Run away.
  2. If wire transfer payment is the only option, insist on a credit card payment.
  3. Use vacation rental websites that hold guests’ payments in escrow until the check-in date (rentini.com is one of them).

Just put yourself in scammer’s shoes and try to deal with a customer who follows those 3 simple steps. Would you succeed? At Rentini, we promote these simple measures and see scammers run away!

How to Report Scammers

If you believe you are the victim of an Internet crime, or if you are aware of an attempted crime, you can file a complain at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C):

http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

In addition, if you’ve been ripped off or scammed, complain to the Federal Trade Commission. It can help put the bad guys out of business. Watch this video to learn how to proceed:

To file a complaint, just go to http://www.ftc.gov/complaint or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Have you heard of any other stories or want to share your own tricks how to detect scam?

Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Comments on: "3 Vacation Rental Scam Scenarios: Detect and Prevent!" (10)

  1. Wow, I just had the worst scam. Somehow a scammer intercepted an email that a client from Spain had sent through to my Contact page on my US website. I answered the client back asking for more specific dates and he never replied. In the meantime within an hour of his original email a scammer had answered him using my name and a similar email address with live.net at the end. They gave him a great price after going back and work with rates and then sent him a contract. The client got suspicious when he saw the address was incorrect on the contract.
    They apologised and said it was an employee mistake from a previous agreement.
    The English in the emails was perfect and they made it sound very personable and sounded like they were very familiar with the owner/manager relationship that they were representing. Luckily my client realised there was something wrong with the email address and no phone number. The photos the scammer had sent were snap shots of my website. So he called me this morning only to find out he was emailing a scammer not me! Thank goodness he did not email his credit card info. They wanted $12000 from him for 3 months.out of a 6 month booking.
    I have no idea how this happened????
    I have changed all me web and email server passwords.

    Who should I report this to? and has anyone seen this before??

    • Oh Katy! This sounds so terrible! Thank you for sharing. It made me add a new section to the post: How To Report Scammers.

      First of all go ahead and file an E-scam claim here:
      http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
      It will be delivered to the FBI dept. I’ve done it in the past multiple times. Very easy and straight forward process.

      Also you may want to watch this video:
      http://www.ftc.gov/video-library/index.php/video/how-to-file-a-complaint-with-the-federal-trade-commission/1402334828001

      They recommend to file a claim at http://www.ftc.gov/complaint but it seems to be more generic than the IC3 site claim.

      I personally came across your scenario numerous times. It does exist and not only in the vacation rental industry. I recall receiving emails from senders that obviously tried to confuse me. E.g. email domain would read msn-emails.com vs msn.com –
      see how they look alike. The first one may sound real while it is not. Please keep us posted on development of your story. People need to know all these tricks to avoid being scammed!

  2. I know you know. So stop the crap. NEEXT! 😀

    On 9/11/2013 1:57 PM, ….. wrote:
    Aloha Katy

    Is there a number I may reach you? Iam interested on increasing the upfront payment and the impact on monthly rental it may have?

    Will have only gsm radio for the next days

    Thanks very much!

    Juan

  3. This is what happened today when the client tried to communicate again. I told him to stop any more contact immediately as they have his Name and address in Spain now.
    Thanks for the info above about reporting Fraud. I will look into it now.
    I just have no idea how they intercepted my email inquiry in the first place that I received?
    and seem to have blocked my original reply to the client?
    Thanks for any insight into this.

    • They could have hacked the guest’s email account. I would recommend the guest to change their email password

    • Hi Katy, there are plenty of ways to hijack into someone’s email account session and take control over it. Your guest’s account might have been compromised this way. It means when you replied fraudsters could have read and deleted your message right away before guests noticed it. Then they could have sent another email from a similar address to yours to trick them out. The best course of action for your guests would be to change the email password asap. The same would be advisable for you. I am actually preparing another blog post that will talk about most common phishing and hijacking technics. People have heard of such things but have no idea how to avoid them.
      I hope you took situation under control by now. Cheers!

      • Yes we have changed all our passwords and made them more difficult. I recently advertised on Craigslist and have been hit with spam- not sure if that triggered someone to intercept my emails?
        The last scary message from the scammer to the Client-
        “I know you know so stop the CRAP .
        NEXXT:D”
        Is a scary?!

      • Katy, it’s just grotesque! So unfortunate that tracking down these folks could be difficult. Still in all, once you changed the passwords you should be ok. I also made it a habit to clear my browsers cookies, just in case. Different browsers have different ways of doing it.
        Under Safari Tab>> Reset Safari
        Under Chrome>> Clear Browsing Data
        In FireFox Under History>> Clear Recent History
        I don’t use IE as over time it proved to be the most vulnerable one.
        Keep in mind resetting your cookies, passwords and history may require you to re-login to applications you use on daily basis, but it’s safer this way. Good luck!

  4. […] more information on how to protect yourself online, please check the following […]

  5. […] are countless scams out there targeting vacation rentals – the industry is being watched not just by those interested in their stocks but by criminals […]

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