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3 Vacation Rental Scam Scenarios: Detect and Prevent!

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.

Crime Online and Off in the Vacation Rental Industry

Keep them there criminals out of your home! (Photo by Johnny Grim)

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,[4] 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.”

A phishing scam spoof. Some cyber-criminal cannot wait to claim your dollars as his own.

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: https://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:

Wired Safety
http://wiredsafety.org/

Get Safe Online
http://www.getsafeonline.org/)

The Truth About Vacation Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

Don’t let your dream become a nightmare; Rentini’s got your back!

San Antonio gorgeous estate

Make sure your dream vacation is the real deal.

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.

Cyber-criminals are more common than ever before

The Internet is full of cyber-criminals, ready to take what is yours.

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:

Wired Safety
http://wiredsafety.org/

Get Safe Online
http://www.getsafeonline.org/

Photo credits, Flickr Creative commons, from top:

Luxury Homes in San Antonio, by ghhomebuying

Online Fraud, by Don Hankins

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