Vacation Rental Scam: Detect and Prevent
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
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
It goes like this:
Traveller: “Hello, we are here! We booked your house!”
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
Those of us who follow the vacation-rental phishing saga are probably aware of this scenario:
- Emails exchange via email or a platform similar to VRBO
- Money wired via bank transfer
- 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.
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.
In summary, don’t forget the three simple steps below, great preventative measures against scammers:
- If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Run away.
- If wire transfer payment is the only option, insist on a credit card payment.
- 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):
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.