So after hours of research and e-mailing back and forth, you finally found the vacation rental of your dreams; a beautiful home with a nice view, private pool and only steps from the beach, best of all, at a ridiculously low price. You are so happy with your choice that you decide to make the deposit payment right away; the courteous owner that has replied to every one of your e-mails, asks you to send money through Western Union. What do you do? Run and wire the money before he rents it to somebody else, right? Wrong!
Unfortunately, and although we believe most owners are honest people, travelers must be aware of internet fraud and scams, know how to detect them, avoid them and report them. The situation described above is one of the most common vacation rental scam scenarios and happens more often than what we would like it to. Malicious individuals looking to make easy money legitimately acquire listings and subscriptions of beautiful properties in vacation rental directories, post them at incredible rates; collect the money from innocent travelers usually via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service and disappear after receiving the payment. These properties were bogus and travelers head to their vacation destination only to find out that there is no such property and they have been scammed.
Regrettably, in cases like this there is not much that vacation rental directories can do. Directories are advertising and promotional services and their function is to list properties. You would not call the Yellow Pages to complain on a plumber that never made it to your house. However you should definitely let them know about the fraud and any other mishap you face as a traveler. Responsible online directories will remove the property immediately to avoid other travelers from running into a similar situation and report the incident to antifraud authorities.
So at the end what can you do to avoid being ripped-off? The first and most important thing is to actually be aware that situations like these do happen. Try to find out as much as you can about the property you are planning to book. See if the listing includes comments from other travelers and ask the owner for references. If possible find out how long has the property been listed on the directory; chances are that a property that has been there for more than two years is not a scam.
Another very important thing to consider is the suggested payment options. Avoid by all means wiring funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire transfer service. These are the most popular payment methods used by scammers. Try to make the reservation with a credit card, but never give out key financial information such as a bank account number or social security number.
Whenever possible it is best to deal with owners that you can meet locally. If this is not the case, try to be skeptical and ask as many questions as you can. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t!
Finally, if you suspect that a property ad may be part of a scam report it immediately! Visit Rentalo” Following is a list of organizations that can help:
- FTC toll free hotline: 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)
- FTC online complaint form (www.ftc.gov)
- Canadian PhoneBusters hotline: 888-495-8501
- Internet Fraud Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov/)
- Non-emergency number for your local police department