If you’re like a lot of would-be vacationers across the US, you’ve been going through the time-consuming process of searching for a deal on a vacation rental property. The number of online real estate vacation rental sites has exploded over the last few years, offering all kinds of search options for the perfect rental property. In preparing for this article, a property in Florida popped up that offered a “clothing optional” feature. I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed!
Vacation rental scams have exploded as well. Fraudsters are ready to take advantage of anxious renters, stealing photos and descriptions of actual properties for rent on legitimate websites and posting them to their own bogus sites. Always read the listing carefully. Read your contract so you know what is included in the rental and any conditions. Also, you might want to comparison shop.
In 2016 alone, consumers filed more than 1,100 complaints with the BBB about vacation rental companies. The most common issue was an inability to get a refund, but consumers also complained about poor service and deceptive sales. Nearly 350 rental scams were reported to our BBB Scam Tracker by consumers nationwide in 2017. Nearly 40 percent of those involved consumers losing money, with the median loss of $350.
Rental scams go something like this: You discover a great place online. You’re anxious not to lose out on it, so you pre-pay. But when you arrive, the property either isn’t available or doesn’t even exist!
We’d like to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of the vacation rental process. A little prep work and research ahead of time is going to pay big dividends.
1. Our first tip seems pretty obvious. Watch out for deals that are too good to be true. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities, great locations and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. We suggest you search elsewhere online for the same listings, email addresses or phone numbers. Check other cities as well. If you find the same ad listed in another city, it’s a huge red flag.
2. Be wary of properties with flexible rental options. In the summertime, those property owners require a Saturday-to-Saturday stay.
3. Another red flag is an ad or email communications with the owner that contain improper grammar. Those ads could be from scammers not even in our country.
4. One expert suggests that you Google the property address. Compare the pictures in the listing with the picture on the Google street view.
5. Look up the property address in the city or county with the auditor’s office, and cross reference the name of the owner. If it’s not the same, be very careful. Be aware though that scammers do the same thing and match the owners name.
6. When a request for payment is required by wire transfer or mailing a cash deposit, don’t send it! They are rarely refundable or legitimate.
7. Before shelling out your hard-earned money, pick up the phone and try to talk with a real person. Scammers usually like to do everything by email, so be careful if they never give you a phone number or readily answer the phone or return your calls promptly during business hours.
8. Beware of wheel-and-deal tactics. Vacation rental properties cost a lot to maintain and manage, so owners are not going to recklessly offer below-market prices when they know they can get more.
Your investment in booking a vacation rental is normally not a small one. Even though it may seem like a lot of work, we hope the above suggestions will help you shield yourself from a scam.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.