Hotels are a familiar entity. You can get rooms from big chains, read reviews, and know exactly what you’re getting into during your next vacation. But private vacation rentals can be more exciting and more affordable for long-term stays. You may want a cute cottage on the beach or a loft in a trendy neighborhood of London for your next trip.
Before you commit to a vacation rental, you need to know how scammers are working to part you from your money online.
The FTC warns of a variety of different rental scams. Sometimes criminals will hijack a real listing, change the contact information, and advertise it on a different website. Some create fake rentals that don’t really exist and aim to take your money before you discover it’s all a sham.
Here’s how scammers try to lure you in and how you can avoid falling into their traps.
Ask for recommendations
You have an extensive network of friends and colleagues. This can be a great starting point for finding a good vacation rental. Ask someone you know who has traveled to your destination about which rental service they used, where they stayed, and if they liked the property and had a good experience.
Be wary of below-market rentals
Wow, that sure looks like a good deal on that vacation rental! It’s so much cheaper than the other ones nearby. You might be tempted to jump on what looks like the deal of a lifetime, but this is the exact moment when you need to be suspicious. Scammers like to lure in vacation goers with tempting rates that are hard to pass up, but don’t let the potential for money savings override your common sense.
Use a reputable booking website
There’s a reason why Airbnb is dominating the vacation rental market right now. The site’s ratings system and extensive details on each home help renters feel confident about reserving a spot. Airbnb isn’t the only established site that facilitates vacation rentals by owners. Kim uses VRBO to rent her condo on the beach in Maui.
Just be wary if an owner asks you to communicate or send money outside of the website’s official channels. Double-check the URL to make sure you’re on the real site and not a fake one that’s made to look legitimate.
Scrutinize the photos
You’ve found a great location. The price is good. But there are just a couple of low-quality photos of the rental despite the owner promising luxurious amenities. This alone should make you cautious about booking. Property owners should offer plenty of images of the rental that can help you judge if you will get what you’re paying for. These photos should match what’s listed in the written description.
On the flip side, if the photos look too good to be true, you can always do a “reverse image search” to see if the image has been stolen from somewhere else on the internet. Check out our guide to using this handy search feature.
Never wire money
Your credit card is a key layer of protection when it comes to paying for a vacation rental. If the renter asks you to send money for a deposit (or for the full rental) via a wire transfer or through a service like Western Union, take that as a massive red flag. Wiring money in a situation like this is a lot like taking cash out of your account and handing it over to a stranger. Instead, pay by credit card, which gives you the ability to dispute charges in case of fraud.
Search for the address and owner
Feeling uncertain about a rental? The FTC recommends hitting up your favorite search engine and running the address or rental listing information through it. First off, confirm that it’s a real place that’s located where you expect it to be. Now see if it’s advertised through more than one site and if the owner’s information and rental details match up.
If you’re communicating by email, then ask questions about the property and surrounding area. The owner should be able to provide additional photos of the property and field specific queries about local attractions and amenities.
A little due diligence ahead of time can save you from suffering from a major vacation headache.
A rental you can trust
Stay in Kim's vacation rental right on the beach on Maui. It's a magical place to rest, relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Maui, with sweeping views of the ocean. Click here to visit her VRBO page. You can see photos of the entire unit, bedrooms, bathrooms, lanais, and more.
Win a vacation!
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Beware of hidden cameras
You’re on vacation and you expect to have some privacy, but someone may be watching you.