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May 27, 2024

We recently received a shocking message from a reader, Kurt in Victorville, CA, about a vacation rental scam. Here’s what he’s going to share.

“beware vacation rental scammers. My brother-in-law owns a vacation rental in Fiji and someone set up a fake listing for it on Booking.com. He had received a text message from someone who had booked time in July but had not yet paid. The villa had been booked all summer so my brother-in-law knew something was wrong.

Both fake and real listings appear on the same booking.com page and app. The potential renter had purchased a non-refundable flight to the location but luckily double-checked before wire transfering the full amount required to an overseas bank within 24 hours. It should be noted that renters miss a lot of red flags. “

—Kurt, Victorville, California

Vacation rental scams are on the rise. For those looking to book a short-term rental, it can be difficult to determine what’s real and what’s a scam. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs of scams before booking a Paradise hotel to avoid having your information stolen. Here are some of the biggest red flags I need to watch out for.

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Comments on your holiday booking (Booking.com)

1. View comments

The first thing you should do before renting, especially if you are on vacation, is to check the reviews on the website. Any booking site like booking.com, Airbnb, Vrbo, etc. should have a section for people who have stayed at these rentals before to leave a review. If you find that the place you’re looking at has few reviews, that’s a red flag.

Of course, it is possible that the property is new to the market and did not have a significant number of tenants previously. For example, the real listing for a property owned by Kurt’s brother-in-law has only 3 reviews. However, this fake listing has 0 reviews, so you should be very careful if this happens.

2. View the person’s profile

It’s always helpful if the person the list belongs to should have a profile under the list. As you can see, Kurt’s brother-in-law has a picture of himself with a short and sweet description of what he and his wife love to do. Liars may not always go out of their way to look like a real person. So if you see a listing and the lister refuses to reveal their identity, that could be a big red flag.

Create your vacation booking profile

Booking information for your next vacation (Booking.com)

Air travelers cut baggage fees by wearing fishing vests

3. Make sure the price isn’t too good to be true

Prices tend to go up depending on the time of year and where you’re going. For example, a home in the Hamptons may be much cheaper to rent in January than it is in July. If you’re looking for places to rent in a particular area and you see one of the listings is priced significantly lower than others in the area, chances are the listing is a scam. Scammers may advertise that they are offering potential renters a rare opportunity that will disappear quickly, hoping to attract first-time renters, out-of-state renters, or renters desperate to find a place to live.

Double check other rental properties in the area

To make sure this is not a scam, double check other rental properties with similar amenities in the area you are looking. You can also use a rental calculator like Rent Zestimate to see how much a particular rental is expected to cost based on what’s on offer.

why is the price so low

Before making any commitments, ask the lister why the price is so low, and be sure to keep copies of all correspondence with them.

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Is your next vacation rental in the spotlight?

4. Pay attention to how the listing asks for payment

If the seller asks you to pay your rent in cash, wire transfer, or money order, that’s a big scam red flag. Once you send money this way, it will be very difficult for you to trace any payments if the property turns out to be a scam. Kurt even pointed out in the above message that the person who was defrauded of his brother-in-law’s property was asked to send money by the scammer.

Many legitimate rental listings will require you to pay by electronic deposit via bank account or credit card or check. Some other larger hotels may even have a website with a portal where you can pay online. These are all traceable options, and you have little room for being scammed.

5. Check the listing is legal

A big clue to whether a rental listing is a scam is if you see the same listing on a different rental website with a different name from the person who listed it than you first saw. Scammers can easily take information from legitimate listings and change the contact information to make it look like they listed it themselves.

woman on laptop here

Woman feeling stressed on laptop (Cyberguy.com)

Always check to see if the rental you are interested in shows up on various online sites, if the contact information is different for each site then it may be a scam. Also, be sure to use reputable rental listing sites such as Zillow, Trulia, Apartments.com, booking.com, Airbnb, and Vrbo. These sites often have a verification process to ensure the legitimacy of the property and the landlord.

Be wary of the rise in short-term vacation rental scams

6. Do not disclose personal information

You should never give out your personal information before viewing a property. It is common for potential tenants to be allowed to view properties without providing any personal information (especially social security numbers, dates of birth, or credit card numbers), and you should not be asked to make any type of payment before viewing a lease with either one.

If you are unable to view the property in person, please request a viewing online or send an agent or friend to view it on your behalf.

Kurt’s key takeaways

Most importantly, trust your instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Go with your instincts and avoid properties that look suspicious or listings that seem overly aggressive. Remember, you’ve never met these people and don’t know what they’re capable of. While I don’t think you need to be overly paranoid about this, it’s best to be vigilant and use common sense.

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