Tenants must be careful. Fraudulent vacation home listings have become increasingly popular. Scammers have become highly adept at hacking legitimate real estate databases and even drafting actual leases. Unfortunately, websites like Craigslist just aren’t aggressive enough to challenge the tricks and techniques used by today’s sophisticated scammers. Here are some typical tricks and tricks scammers use to defraud vacation home victims:
Too good to be true. If the vacation home rental seems too good to be true, you could be its next victim. If the price is much lower than other listings or the amenities seem too palatial for the price, you can expect a scam. Legitimate vacation homes are often priced competitively with other similar properties.
Bait and change. Scammers love posting glamorous photos of vacation homes and their surroundings. Photos show spacious rooms, ultra-modern kitchens, luxurious pools and spas, and manicured landscaping with beautiful tree-lined streets. These properties will always somehow be unavailable, and the tourist will be diverted to another less desirable property. So always ask for the specific address and house number, then use tools like Google Maps to find real photos of the property and the neighborhood. Better yet, ask the agent to use web tools like FaceTime or Skype to show you the property live.
Double book scam. The scammers will book a property twice and then send the last arriving vacationer to a second-rate backup, along with their sincerest apologies.
Transfer money now and save scam. Scammers often ask for money up front, often in the form of a “security deposit.” And they will want you to use money transfer systems like MoneyGram, or they will ask you to send money to a specific bank account. If you must send money to “save property,” use a credit card or PayPal; both allow you to dispute any fraudulent charges.
No references or false references. Scammers will not have legitimate referrals to give you. They will offer you the “privacy excuse”, saying that their previous tenants want to keep their privacy, or they will simply give you the phone numbers of their friends who are involved in the scam. So before deciding to book, call the property owner or manager and ask for references. You can also check the reviews linked to Facebook.
False positive reviews. False or insincere reviews are a problem on some vacation home listings. “No disparagement” clauses are beginning to appear in vacation rental agreements, which means that tenants cannot post negative reviews of a property. So read these reviews with a grain of salt. Use Google Maps and Street View to dismiss any false claims of “awesome property” or great location just steps from the beach, resort, or convention center. Call your landlord or property manager and use tools like FaceTIme to reveal real home interiors.
Inaccurate online calendar. Online calendars for many vacation homes can be poorly maintained. Most are an afterthought for some homeowners. Even if the listing shows that the calendar has recently been updated, please call or email the owner / manager and make sure the property is available on the date you need it.
No professional property manager. According to Trip Advisor, 37% of consumers are concerned that they will not have an emergency contact if something goes wrong in a vacation home. Property managers make sure the vacation home is kept up to date and in good condition. They have relationships with reputable subcontractors that can handle any property issues that arise. A property manager can ensure that the property will be as advertised and that a deposit for a property will be handled safely.
Hidden charges. Most vacation rentals require a non-negotiable “cleaning fee” and some even require tenants to pay for utilities, cable, and / or internet. So make sure you know all the actual and potential rates before finalizing your reservation.
Non-professional listing. Beware of poorly worded and bad grammar listings or emails. These can be red flags. The same applies to foreign phone numbers, or if the property owner / manager does not respond quickly to emails.
Avoid Craigslist. Don’t use sites like Craigslist. View and book properties directly from reputable vacation home rental sites.