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Don’t Let Vacation Rental Scams Ruin Your Next Trip

Posted On   date26/05/2014

Don’t Let Vacation Rental Scams Ruin Your Next Trip

Vacation planning is now something where the Internet plays a major role. People consult online for everything from the airline ticket to the best restaurant in town.  Many websites even have their own listings of the most popular or better places to visit. In fact, these days, we wouldn’t know how to plan a trip without the Internet.  But the tourist business online is also full of fraud and scams as many victims have learned.  After all, there is big money to be made, so more crooks are setting up fake sites and fake rentals to steal your cash.  When you really need a break, nothing can be worse than being scammed.

Vacation rentals are becoming more and more popular amongst travelers. The trend is now to prefer home or apartment rentals from fancy hotels, and sites like Airbnb are offering more choices to people who want to consider renting an apartment or condo while traveling.  But online searches for rental homes or apartments are tricky. Internet is full of beautiful pictures of properties for rent and it´s sometimes difficult to know the difference between real and fake properties, or between real and fake agencies. Rental fraud used to happen with regular rental properties and not in the touristic business, but things have changed. Sometimes places look great in the pictures, but the pictures are 20 years old or stolen!  Sometimes the agency has no link with the property owner and the home is in fact for rent, but completely booked and people get sent to another place. Or worse, the person renting their property may be a known criminal or sex offender.  Thousands of things can go wrong when you rent a property from a person who’s never been verified.

Below are some tips from investigators to protect yourself from vacation scams:

  1. Don´t be fooled by the looks! Just like online dating scammers who use stolen pictures from models around the world, rental scammers post pictures of homes that have never been available for rent and that are most of the time somewhere else. Try to get as much information as you can from the owner or agency that is renting, and use that information to verify if things match up.
  2. There are so many real estate and travel agencies around the world, that it´s difficult to say “stick with a reputable one”. Globally known agencies might make you feel safer, but the truth is that these are dedicated to high end luxury homes most of the time, and that might not be what you´re looking for. Websites who rent condos and apartments try to keep scammers away, but sometimes things can go wrong. So keep in mind that verifying is part of your job, but you can still get some help from an international investigator who can verify the property and the owner is safe.
  3. Be careful with payment methods. You should be able to pay through secure methods like Paypal or credit cards. If the only payment method offered is Western Union or Money Gram, you better find a good way to verify the ownership and offer, or continue looking.
  4. Pay attention to the pricing! Those deals that seem too good to be true need to be carefully reviewed. Check out other properties around the area, this will give you a good idea of the average price you should be paying.  If there are no referrals or references, it’s best to avoid it.
  5. Don´t rush things. Planning vacations is time consuming. Take as much time as you need to check the details. Read the comments on the property, look for ratings on TripAdvisor and everywhere else online. There’s a lot you should know before you decide to stay in a stranger’s home in a foreign country.
  6. Be skeptical. Confirm that the owner´s name on the lease is the same as the one shown in public and government records. This might be particularly complicated when you’re traveling to a place where the language is different and where records are not available online or outdated.   Find a local investigator to help you run a background check of the property ownership or the agency you´re hiring. If you apply some skepticism, you’re more likely to see red flags. You’re also more likely to catch suspicious behavior.  You don’t want to stay in a criminal’s apartment with your loved ones!
  7. When traveling in big groups of friends or family, make sure someone is actually taking care of all of the above, or offer yourself to do so. Sometimes when group trips are planned, everyone assume´s that someone else is doing the homework, and it can be overlooked.

Vacations planning is exciting and fun, but it should also be done carefully if you don´t want your money and time off to end up in disaster.  If you’re renting from an individual, be safe and verify.

C. Wright
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