Now that summer is just around the corner, you’re probably thinking about lying on a sandy beach and getting some much needed rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, scammers never rest. If you’re not careful, you could end up with a fake vacation rental. Websites like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner make it easy to search for and book a stay at a vacation home, but the convenience also makes it that much easier to get scammed.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 10,384 complaints in 2013 regarding real estate rental scams. Consumers lost more than $18 million in 2013 according to the Bureau’s annual Internet Crime Report. If you want to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a vacation rental scam, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Question unusually low prices
If a vacation rental deal looks too good to be true, it most likely is. Fraudsters will search the web for sites that list vacation rentals. They will then copy the description and photo from an advertisement and insert their own contact information (the Federal Trade Commission refers to this as a “hijacked” ad). The fraudster will attempt to lure renters by posting below-market rental prices. A price that is very low should cause you to pause and take a closer look. Make sure to thoroughly investigate before jumping at the offer. Also conduct your own web search to see if there are identical listings for the same property posted by different people.
2. Watch out for phantom rentals
In another version of the hijacked ad scam, a fraudster will list a vacation rental that is not for rent or doesn’t even exist. The Better Business Bureau recommends checking with the state assessor’s office to determine who owns the property you are thinking of renting. Also contact the real estate company to confirm whether a listing is legitimate.
3. Be suspicious of those who are in a rush to rent
The scammer may tell you he or she has to leave the area quickly because of a job offer or a volunteer assignment. “Many claim they left the United States for missionary or contract work in Africa. Victims are usually instructed to send money overseas—enough to cover the first and last month’s rent—via a wire transfer service,” said the Internet Crime Complaint Center in their annual survey.
4. Don’t wire money
Any requests for money via wire transfer is a sure sign of fraud. “There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back,” says the FTC.
5. Guard your financial information
The scammer might even go one step further and ask you for personal financial information under the guise of conducting a routine credit check. Perpetrators might request that you fill out credit applications, submit an employment history, and provide your Social Security number. Don’t just hand out your information to whoever asks for it; always question a request like this.
If you think you might have been the victim of a vacation rental scam, log a complaint with the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant. You can access the complaint assistant and file your report when you visit ftc.gov/complaint.