If you’ve decided to skip the hotel and instead opt for a vacation rental, there are a few things you must keep in mind in order to avoid getting scammed. The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to watch out for signs of a shady deal.
Know who you’re dealing with. In cases of what the Federal Trade Commission calls a “hijacked ad,” fraudsters commandeer a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and putting up a new advertisement on another site.
Sometimes, the new ad might list the name of the person who placed the original ad. In other instances, fraudsters have taken over the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.
Beware of phantoms. In the case of a phantom rental, the person you’re thinking of renting from is not the property owner. In this instance, the scammer has often copied and pasted photos and the listing from someone else’s website. Once you’ve returned the rental contract and submitted a security deposit, you think you’re all set. What usually happens is you’ll show up to the fake rental and the scammer is nowhere to be found. So you’re out of a summer rental and your deposit.
Do not agree to wire-transfer requests. The FTC says this is one of the top signs you’re being scammed. Paying a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation-rental fee via wire transfer is not the norm. Says the FTC, “Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.”
If you’ve been victimized by a vacation rental fraud, immediately report it to local law enforcement and the FTC.