Home Advice & How-ToSafety Travel Plans Ahead? Don’t Fall Victim to These 5 Vacation Rental Scams
Home Advice & How-ToSafety Travel Plans Ahead? Don’t Fall Victim to These 5 Vacation Rental Scams

Travel Plans Ahead? Don’t Fall Victim to These 5 Vacation Rental Scams

by Nick Marshall

You’ve waited all year for your vacation with your family. However, when you arrive at your lakeside cabin or beachfront apartment, you’re in for a shock.  Either another family is already enjoying “your” property, or there’s no villa, condo, lodge or house there at all.  This is the vacation rental scam, and it’s the second most common scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Instead of cutting your losses and waiting until next summer vacation comes around, here’s how to avoid falling victim to vacation rental scams in the first place. 

What Are the Most Popular Vacation Rental Platforms?

Although there’s no guarantee that you’re safe if you’re using one of the established rental platforms, you’re more likely to fall victim if you’re browsing the classifieds, Craigslist or social media for a great deal.  These have no safeguards in place and offer no consumer protection if you’re scammed. 

That’s why you should book through registered boutique agencies with a brick and mortar presence, or use one of these popular vacation rental sites:

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  • VRBO: rent cottages, cabins and houses across the United States. 
  • Vacasa: use the app to book vacations in North and Central America.
  • Airbnb: the world’s most popular short- and long-term rental service, but be careful to avoid these six common scams.

Use one of the above and your payment and personal details are secure, your booking consumer protected and a process in place for requesting a refund if the worst happens. 

5 Vacation Rental Scams to Watch Out For

Fraudsters are after your money and your personal information, and they know that you’re focused on having a good time with the family.  That allows them to distract and entrap you with the following:

  1. Ad Hijacking 

This occurs when legitimate properties from sites you should trust are cloned onto platforms you shouldn’t.  For example, a scammer screenshots a listing from Airbnb and advertises it on Craigslist, linking to their personal email address. 

  1. Fake Listings

The scammer uses images of any property, obtained from real estate websites or social media, and builds out fake reviews and location information. 

  1. Cloned Websites

This scam takes a little more skill, so it’s usually the hallmark of professional gangs.  They publish a fake version of an authentic site that looks identical except for a hard-to-spot variation in the URL. 

  1. Plumbing Scams

Fraudsters will contact the renter at short notice before the rental begins claiming that an emergency (e.g., water leak) forces them to cancel the booking.  They will either offer them an alternative (and lower quality) location or ask for extra fees.  One Alabama renter was asked to pay $14,000 to cover the cost of cleaning up a vacation rental. 

  1. Phishing Attacks

Hackers can hijack the email addresses of legitimate property owners and just wait for the bookings to hit their inbox, at which point they can get their hands on personal information and bank details. 

Vacation Rental Scam Red Flags

In most cases, you’re going to be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from your vacation rental property when you book, so a little online sleuthing will be required with Spokeo should you encounter these tricks:

  • Low cost:  We mean ridiculously cheap compared to other options in the area.  If it seems like a “steal,” you’re probably right, although you’re the victim.  
  • Address is not provided:  Legitimate platforms like Airbnb won’t share the exact address until the host accepts a reservation, but if a site is demanding payment without giving you an address that you can run through a Spokeo address search, it could be because the property listing is cloned. 
  • No reviews:  If the property listing or the owner has no reviews or ratings, it’s a sign that the ad is only intended to be online for long enough to catch a victim. 
  • Suspicious payments:  The beauty of genuine platforms is that they collect and process the payments securely without you having to leave the site.  At no point should anyone ask you to switch to another platform for payment.  That allows scammers to collect untraceable and non-refundable transfers. 
  • Up-front payment:  Some agents will request a credit card deposit to hold a booking, but only scammers will ask for complete payment up front, often with high-pressure tactics. 
  • Images that don’t fit:  The listing says “charming cottage” but the images show a Manhattan loft.  That’s just one of the cues to run a reverse photo search on Spokeo to establish if the photos have been copied from another site or photo library. 

Don’t Fall Victim to Vacation Rental Scams

Other than conducting your customary due diligence of any online transaction or personal introduction using Spokeo, you can protect yourself by communicating and paying through the official platform only, and using a credit card for your booking.  This gives you an additional layer of consumer protection, since the booking technically belongs to your credit card company initially.  You should report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement and the FTC, and your own background report on Spokeo to confirm that you haven’t fallen victim to identity theft.