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How to Avoid Vacation Rental Scams

June 3, 2024 6 min

Vacation rentals can be a great option, especially when traveling with a group. It gives you the chance to cook together, save money, and enjoy amenities you wouldn’t find in a hotel.

But booking a vacation rental can be a challenge. Finding a place with plenty of bedrooms, a decent kitchen and the other perks you want can be tough. But do you know what doesn’t have to be tough? Avoiding vacation rental scams.

Before booking your next vacation rental, make sure you understand how these scams work and how to avoid them.

How do vacation rental scams work?

Scammers may post fake vacation rental listings with photos that make the rental appear to be perfect for an idyllic vacation. There may be waterfront views, pristine floors and counters, and stunning decor.

These photos of the perfect vacation rental are often either from somewhere else online or are heavily edited. For example, the photos may be from a real apartment or house – on the other side of the world from where the listing claims to be. Also, in a world of AI technology, it’s easy to edit photos so that the rental looks like a five-star resort when it’s actually a low-budget building.

A victim books the fake rental, sending the fraudster money. Unfortunately, when the victim arrives at the property, the address does not exist, is not a vacation rental, or is in terrible condition.

Depending on the rental site used, it could be difficult to get the funds back. If you paid with a credit or debit card, you should dispute the transaction by calling your credit union. (This is a good reason to book travel reservations with a card rather than using a wire transfer or some other form of instant payment.)

In another variation, you find a great rental and are communicating with the host. Then, the host sends you a link on the platform you used to find the rental – along with a message about needing more information or an issue with your payment. When you tap or click the link, you’re taken to a website that looks just like the platform you’ve been using – but it’s actually a phishing site designed to steal your money or information.

Always be on the lookout

Always be on the lookout for potential scams when renting a vacation home, even on the most reputable platforms. Fraudsters are everywhere.

Protect yourself from vacation rental scams

Even though fake rentals and other scams are a huge problem, there are still plenty of legitimate owners with legitimate listings. Here are some ways to avoid fraud:

  • Only use known, trusted, and verifiable vacation rental websites and agencies. Beware that even the most reputable platforms can include scams or misleading listings. For example, you might show up and find out that the rental is nothing like the pictures – because the photos were taken from another listing or were heavily edited.
  • When reading through the listing, look for obvious typos and grammatical mistakes. Sometimes this is just because the language used isn’t the host’s native language – it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, but in some cases, it could signal a fake listing.
  • Read the reviews carefully – and if anything seems off with a review, pay attention to your suspicions as the host could have found a way to add fake reviews. If there are no reviews for the property, think twice before reserving it, and research what protections the platform offers.
  • Check and verify the vacation rental’s address online. Use Google Maps to see if the property address matches up with the photos from the listing.
  • Compare the price to similar rentals – if it seems too good to be true, it might be a scam.
  • Check out the help section of the website you’re using for additional tips on avoiding scams.
  • Never send money to someone outside of the website’s established payment method – even if they say they’ll give you a discount. When you do this, you’re ensuring that you won’t be protected by the rental company in case something goes wrong.
  • Be very wary about tapping or clicking links provided by the host in messages. Almost always, whatever you need to do can be done on the original platform itself – you shouldn’t have to go to another website.
  • If you do see a link from a host that you think is legitimate (such as a link to the platform you’re already on), double-check it to make sure it’s the real website address, not a similar looking address.

Report scams and fake rentals

If you do fall for a scam or notice one ahead of time, you should contact the authorities whenever possible. If you have yet to exchange any money, you should notify the rental company about the problem listing.

If you have already sent money, you can reach out to:

If the listing came from a major rental company, you should also report it to them. And if you have paid for the rental, you can file a dispute with your card issuer or credit union. Make sure to do this as soon as possible because they may have limits on disputes for fraudulent transactions.

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