By Valerie Simson
With summer fast approaching, many consumers will turn to the web to commence their search for summer vacation rentals.
Generally, vacation rentals are an excellent alternative to hotels, especially if you’re traveling in a large group or would like more space than a hotel room may accommodate. But it’s important to understand there are risks that come with searching for and committing to a property you find online.
While many consumers may be tempted to select the cheapest option or the most well-written rental description, there are several important factors to consider when signing away your money.
Recently, your Better Business Bureau has seen an onslaught of online vacation rental offerings that simply don't exist. These scam artists post descriptions of beautiful rentals, and then tell you that they must check your credit before showing you the property, or, in some cases, ask you to wire money and then disappear.
Before booking your next summer rental, arm yourself with the following tips to ensure you’re protecting your money and your travel plans:
1. Use reputable sites: Your best bet is to avoid sites such as Craigslist, where posts aren’t vetted prior to publishing on the site. VRBO and Homeaway are good, but be sure you know the customer review policies for each site before allowing reviews to persuade your decision.
2. Do your research: Google the renter’s phone number, name, and additional contact or identifying information they provide. Google the address of the property in question, and if possible, use the satellite feature to confirm the place exists. Copy chunks of the property description into a search engine as well—rental scammers will often reproduce a real listing onto their fake rental sites.
3. Has this property been used in a previous scam? Rental listings are constantly added and removed, but if a consumer has been burned by a scam, chances are they’ve aired their grievances somewhere on the internet. Search names and addresses on websites such as scamwarners.com, scam.com, or fraudwatchers.org to find warnings and reviews.
4. Ask a lot of questions: A true scammer will avoid most of your questions and will be unwilling to set your mind at ease. If the listing says the property has an ocean view, find out how far the beach is via foot. Ocean view doesn’t necessarily mean “ocean adjacent.” Additionally, asking questions through email is great proof of correspondence in case the rental provided less than you expected or were promised.
5. Never send money without viewing the agreement: Be sure to confirm that whatever you’ve been given to sign is the agreement or contract in its entirety. Read the fine print—if you’re concerned your travel plans may be interrupted, check to see if the agreement includes a cancellation policy or partial refund.
6. Be wary of wire transfers: As scamwarners.com points out, Western Union and MoneyGram transactions are typically for use between people you know and trust. These transfers may be collected almost anywhere in the world and with little to no identification. They’re also nearly impossible to trace once the recipient has received your money. Try to use your credit card for more protection.
These tips just skim the surface of smart vacation rental practices, but if you’re more aware of the risks, you’re less likely to become a victim. And remember, as cliché as it sounds, trust your gut instinct. If the listing sounds too good to be true, or if you feel cause for alarm at any point in your search, move along to the next property.
For more tips and advice on vacation rentals and scams, call your BBB at (858) 496-2131 or visit bbb.org.