vacation rental scams

How to avoid vacation rental scams on Airbnb, VRBO, Craiglist and more

by Michael on November 1, 2018

We’ve written before about using Airbnb to book places on vacation, particularly for long-term stays. Then last week we were sitting at our Airbnb rental when there was a knock on the door. Outside was a young man on the porch with several pieces of luggage stating he was ready to move in. Uh oh. Fortunately, since we booked through Airbnb, we were fine; unfortunately for him, he had been scammed.

He had found the cottage on Craigslist at a monthly rate that was half what we were paying. Too good to be true? As it happens, yes. The listing included the same description and photos as those on the (legitimate) Airbnb listing, but the contact information was different. He had signed a lease and mailed the contact a deposit check for $500.

A quick call to our Airbnb host confirmed that this was a scam—her Airbnb listing had been “scraped,” with a fake ad posted on Craigslist, lying in wait for an unsuspecting dupe. Our Airbnb host confirmed that this had happened before; she’s tried hard to stop the scammers, but they remove the fake internet listing before the police can take action.

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There are several lessons here. Following is our checklist for avoiding vacation rental scams:

1. If a property seems too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate. Compare the listing to others in the area; anything that looks larger, more luxurious, or cheaper than the going rate should be suspect.

2. Work through legitimate rental companies. Booking sites such as Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO or local established rental agencies offer a level of protection should there be an issue. They all have business reputations to maintain, it’s in their best interest to resolve any disputes to everyone’s satisfaction.

3. Stay within the system. Booking sites and rental agencies do charge a fee, but they also provide a service.

Avoid the temptation to save a few dollars by going around them—a trick scammers often use. Last year while booking an Airbnb apartment in Italy the “owner” contacted us directly and asked us to wire the payment to them rather than working through the normal Airbnb channels—something that is specifically outside the company’s guidelines. This set off warning flags—sure enough, we contacted Airbnb, who confirmed it was a false listing and took it down.

Vacation rentals are a fabulous lodging alternative when traveling. However, the Internet makes it very easy for scammers to create false listings. Don’t be that guy stuck out on our porch. Always do your due diligence, particularly when the property or price seems too good to be true.

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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