|Jorge and Donna Martinez pose in front of their home, Abalone Bay.
Avoid being scammed-verify that you are actually renting from the owner
Are you Wise to Vacation Rental Phishing Scams?
How do you make certain that you don’t join the more than nine million households who have fallen prey to a vacation rental phishing attempt when renting a vacation home for your next holiday?
These are rip-offs that seduce you with fabulous pictures of fictitious properties. Other fakes use the bait-and-switch method by showing unavailable properties, only to divert you to another, less desirable spot.
Some tricksters may double-book a property, then send whichever vacationer arrives last to a second-rate backup, along with sincere apologies.
Other gottchas are properties that actually exist but are offered by thieves disguised as property owners. Once you are hooked, the phony landlord collects an up-front “security deposit” never to seen or heard from again
…..Until he pops up to scam the next poor bloke.
YOU, however, are left unaware you’ve been cheated out of thousands.
It’s not til weeks later, you discover when you show up at the address with luggage in hand, your dreams of a glorious vacation are now a horrid nightmare.
Who are these holiday burglars?
They often target email addresses, and go after users of rental websites, such as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com) and parent site, HomeAway.com. Other listings frequently targeted are Craigslist and Kijij.
So how do you protect your honeymoon from being marred?
How do you make sure your family isn’t left at the gate looking into that glorious villa with its legitimate occupants enjoying the pool as your bank account stands empty?
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE– By being aware of these crucial steps. Follow these guidelines it’s a good bet you won’t fall prey for the bait these phishers offer.
And remember for much of this, Google is your godsend!
1. IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE– WELL DUH!
|Mother knows! If it’s too good to be true….|
How many times has your mother told you that if it’s too good to be true you KNOW it’s a fake. Trust your mother.
If the rental price is too good to be true, warning flags should go up. “Taxes included” is a huge red flag on a short term rental.
If you don’t have a feel for what a reasonable price is in an area, get one. Check other rentals through a variety of resources to get a good handle on what a home SHOULD cost.
Ask for a detailed quotation, with ‘included’ taxes and ALL of the fees shown. Scammers often go after people who aren’t that savvy. When you bargain with the “owner” try to detect any odd behavior from the other party.
If they don’t provide the tax and fees breakdown, are willing to let it go for a steal– then it really is just that- avoid, avoid, avoid!
2. OBTAIN FULL CONTACT INFO AND VERIFY
|Verify your contract, double check the information|
- Know who you are dealing with.
- Use a trusted agent.
- Check their license.
- Get their full contact information: name / address / phone number / email / etc) and
- verify that information (by using Google search, etc).
Above all- Confirm legitimacy
Any real business or vacation rental owner should be easy to verify, as they will have a full web site, be in the yellow pages, be easy to contact, etc.
When dealing with a person, ask for references, especially full work contact info, and verify that contact info.
Use maps.google.com to examine the address of the person you are dealing with (via Street or Satellite view).
If you see a trailer park, do you really think that person owns an expensive rental vacation home? Usually this works incredibly well.
However, watch out since sometimes Google puts the address blocks away from where it really is.
3. YOUR PHONE CALLS ARE ANSWERED
|Even you, Grumpy cat?|
You should be able to call them directly and actually have the owner or his agent answer.
If they always have to call you back (when you call, you always have to leave a message to call you back), then avoid, avoid, avoid!
When they call, ask for a phone number where you can immediately call them back. If they don’t pick up the phone, watch out.
Be aware that many scammers use message services (no one answers; you always need to leave a message).
Also, Google any phone numbers. You should find your contact person associated with that number.
If not, that may indicate the phone number is brand new or simply wrong.
Note that anyone in the world (especially scammers) can obtain US phone numbers (sometimes for free), and make it look like they are here in the US, when in fact, they could be around the world. Also with VoIP today, a US phone number could actually ring anywhere in the world.
4. AVOID PRIVATE/BLOCKED CALLERS
|Avoid renting from someone with a blocked number|
Any legitimate person (or business) has no reason to block their Caller ID when contacting you (a potential renter).
However, realize that Caller ID is really easy to fake!
So, verify Caller ID by immediately calling the person back (*69), and Google the phone number and verify the person or business is known and listed.
Caller ID is just like the return address on an envelope – most are legit, but some are fake.
5. USE A CREDIT CARD
|Use a credit card, never wire cash|
Use a credit card (which has a dispute resolution process).
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay with cash, certified checks, or cash-transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union, or any other service where the money is gone forever immediately after you send it. The credit card company has already performed basic background checks on the company charging your card.
Provide your credit card number only after you have confirmed who you are dealing with. You don’t want to end up giving your credit card number to a scammer.
6. RENTAL CONTRACT HAS FULL DISCLOSURE
|All fees and taxes must be disclosed in the contract|
If the rental contract does not disclose full owner contact info, and does not ask for full renter contact information, drop it like a hot potato!
For ownership and all documents, confirm that the owner’s name on the lease is the same as the one shown on public property appraiser records. If still not sure, have a lawyer review the lease, just like you would a full-year agreement.
Many scam rental contracts only ask for your signature, and nothing more, a huge red flag.
Legitimate rental companies will always require full contact information for you, the renter, as well.
7. CHECK FOR BUSINESS EMAIL ADDRESSES
Only deal with people who can provide (and use) business email addresses. Avoid anyone who can only use anonymous email addresses from aol, hotmail, yahoo, gmail, etc.
If you are dealing with firstname.lastname@example.org and www.company.com is not the rental company or person you are dealing with (but some other large corporation, like Yahoo) — insist on an email address that tracks to the person or company.
8. ASK FOR A LOCAL NUMBER
|Get the local number of the vacation rental and call it|
Call the company or owner, ask for a local number for the rental. Double check it by calling.
9. USE WELL KNOWN RENTAL SITES
But then, even they can be hit by scammers.
This happens because surprisingly, vacation web sites allow anyone (including real homeowners and fraudsters) to post on their web sites with nothing more than any (even anonymous) email address.
So, you always need to verify who you are dealing with, no matter where you found them on the Internet.
Read the comments on those rental sites. Past renters’ feedback that appears on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is invaluable. Other sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor allow you to pose questions to past users. Don’t hesitate to ask!
If you have discovered a scam on any of the rental websites please advise not only rental site but also the owner of the property!
- AirBnB: https://www.airbnb.com/help/question/4 and here: https://www.airbnb.com/safety#guest_tips and here: https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/145
- Craigslist: You can report it here: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/feedback
- VRBO/HomeAway/VacationRentals: Forward suspected phishing emails targeting a HomeAway.com, VRBO.com or VacationRentals.com Learn more here: http://help.vrbo.com/articles/en_US/Article/How-do-I-report-fraud
10. DON’T BE FOOLED BY PHOTOGRAPHY
|Look for actual pictures by actual past renters|
Double check those beautiful photos and be wary if they are too gorgeous
— they may just be Photoshopped property photos.
Ask the owner for additional photos – even photos of the owner/agent present in the property.
Check review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor for actual photos posted by actual renters.
Or ask the owner/agent to use technology like FaceTime or Skype to show you the property live.
And failing that use Google Earth and Google’s Street View feature to confirm that the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised. You can also use those Google tools to get an unvarnished look at the property’s exterior.
11. TAKE YOUR TIME -DO IT RIGHT
|Planning ahead can help avoid problems later|
Plan ahead for your vacation rental. Check out all the possibilities.
Don’t be duped by someone trying to rush you into a hasty decision by offering you deal you’ll loose out on if you don’t jump now.
Ask a lot of questions. If you get vague answers then it is a scam.
12. BOTTOM LINE- DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
VERIFY VERIFY VERIFY!
With a few simple background checks you will detect (and AVOID) most of the fraud that is out there.
Don’t let yourself be one more phish on the scammers’ stringer!
13. INSURE YOU HAVE A GOOD TIME
|Travel insurance can help save the day|
When making your vacation plans through rental sites such as HomeAway or FlipKey travel insurance is always offered.
In fact many home owners insist on it prior to your booking with them. This protects not only you as the vacationer, but also the owner from being bilked by a scammer.
You can also purchase from private agencies. A Google search for “travel insurance for vacation rentals” will help you locate an agency suitable for your holiday.