How to avoid a Vacation Property Rental Scam along the Emerald Coast! 15 Tips!

scam alert

Now that summer is finally here, you’re probably thinking about lying on a sandy beach and getting some much needed rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, scammers never rest. If you’re not careful, you could end up with a fake vacation rental. Websites like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner make it easy to search for and book a stay at a vacation home, but the convenience also makes it that much easier to get scammed.

These days it’s easy to connect directly with property owners who advertise their vacation homes online, and you’ve probably heard wonderful stories from people who rent vacation properties. We have, too. But we’ve also heard from people who’ve fallen for vacation rental scams.

Here are some tips to help you avoid this scheme:

  1. Don’t be fooled by photography. In particular, be wary of the nicest-looking, most Photo shopped property photos. Ask the owner for additional photos — an honest owner will always have them. Or ask your agent to use technology like Face Time or Skype to show you the property live. At the very least, use Google Earth and Google’s Street View feature to confirm that the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised. You can also use those Google tools to get an unvarnished look at the property’s exterior.
  2. Never pay with cash. The preferred methods of payment among criminals are cash and cash-transfer services like Money Gram and Western Union. Use a credit card instead — Visa, MasterCard and American Express will all allow you to recover money you lose to fraud. Reputable sites like Airbnb will hold your security funds in escrow. They play middleman, making sure you’ve put the funds in place before you get keys. (Some portals offer insurance against fraud — but it’s expensive and may not cover much; read the policy closely.)
  3. Consider the Payment Method
    As we mentioned previously, the safest way to pay for your vacation rental is by credit card.  Regardless of where you live, credit cards offer more consumer protection than any other payment method.  If there is a problem with your rental, or if you are the victim of a vacation rental scam, you can dispute investigated. Wiring money is the same as sending cash. If you wire money to a person you’ve never met, you have no way to trace it or get it back. If a property owner/vacation rental company asks you to pay in full upfront and requires payment via Money Gram, Western Union or Green Dot cards, it could be a scam.
  4. Confirm legitimacy/ Conduct Online Searches. You can never be too careful. Only rent vacation homes from property owners you trust and reputable vacation rental companies. When in doubt, ask for proof that the owner actually owns the rental property or the manager is actually hired to manage the home, or check with the county assessor’s office to confirm the owner., or if you find the same text or photos posted by two different owners, think twice about renting the property, especially if you have been asked to pay the rent in full by wire transfer or a similar method.
  5. Trust your instincts. If you apply some skepticism to the process, you’re more likely to see red flags. You’re also more likely to catch suspicious behavior. Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, then don’t book the property.
  6. Be a regular. If you rent a home you like, stick with it. You’ll develop a relationship with the owner/vacation rental company if you go back to the same place year in, year out — and avoid the risk of being scammed on a new property. If you’re traveling to a new place, try to find a friend who lives there and will give you honest feedback on potential rentals, good neighborhoods, etc.
  7. Compare rental rates in the immediate area. A good deal might be tempting to seize immediately, but the severely below-market pricing for rentals and other vacation services in a community might indicate a scam. Crosscheck the pricing of home rentals and related services in the community before you make a reservation. Given the example above, don’t rely on the Internet alone. Pick up the phone and speak to the property owner/vacation rental company directly.
  8. Follow recommendations. Personal recommendations from friends and family can ensure a safe transaction. If you know someone who has visited a destination or rented property recently, ask which companies or individuals they would recommend.
  9. The lower the price for a premium vacation property, the more likely it’s a scam. Rip-off artists love to attract people’s interest by offering below-market rent. If the price seemed too good to be true, then most likely it is scam.
  10. Don’t rely solely on email.Follow up with the owner, property manager, or booking agency on the phone. Beware of foreign numbers or unresponsive contacts. Usually after you’ve wired the money, if it was a scam, then communication would end immediately. When the dust settles, your money is gone and you have no place to stay.
  11. Avoid Peer-to-Peer sites. Stay in a managed property, and avoid sites like Craigslist. While those sites seem like a great idea, too often dishonest people take advantage of others in these anonymous environments.
  12. Ask for a rental agreement. Reputable renters or property management organizations require a rental agreement for the safety of both the renter and the company.
  13. Ask about local attractions or area in general. Ask the property owner or vacation rentals agency about the local attractions. They should be knowledgeable about local events, sites and attractions for vacationers to experience.
  14. Official Website. Does the property owner/ or vacation rental company have a website? Most scammers won’t take the time to create a website. Additionally creating a website leaves a trail that law enforcement can track to prosecute the scammer. Just because a property owner does not have a website does not make them a scammer, but it should raise a flag to proceed with caution.
  15. Be suspicious of those who are in a rush to rent. The scammer may tell you he or she has to leave the area quickly because of a job offer or a volunteer assignment and need you to wire money as soon as possible.

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