Booking a rental property for your next vacation? There’s a scam for that!
Seriously, vacation rental scams are everywhere. Last year alone, Airbnb banned 59K fake listings — and stopped 157K before they made it up in the first place.
Too bad they didn’t catch the guy who scammed people out of $7 million over two years. He listed 100 properties across the U.S., then accepted 10,000 offers. His bait-and-switch schemes worked — till he got caught.
Being familiar with the red flags can save you from being a victim. And that’s why I am here today, to give you the know-how.
1. Suspicious photos
Does the picture of that beachfront property look like it’s straight out of a pricey photoshoot? Well, it might be. Images that are just a little bit too polished should raise your eyebrows. Try a reverse image search to see if it pops up elsewhere online. How? Open a pic, right click, then choose Search Image or similar in your browser.
2. That doesn’t add up
Some hosts list a property at different price points on multiple platforms. The highest bidder wins, so your stay could get canceled if they find a person to pay more. This could also be what’s known as a “phantom rental.” In this scheme, crooks cook up a completely fake listing using a bogus address and photos and run away with your money.
3. Under pressure
This is classic scam stuff: pressure to do something right now. When you’re rushed into making a decision, you’re more likely to overlook serious flaws in the listing. A legitimate host won’t rush you into sealing the deal.
4. Can you send me a gift card?
You should always pay through the rental site. They’re secure and typical payment methods include debit, credit and sometimes a direct bank transfer. Never pay using a cash app, via crypto or using a certified check.
5. No one used spellchek
Not everyone speaks perfect English or catches all their typos, but a poorly worded listing is cause for concern. Look for odd sentence structures or lots of repeat words or phrases. They may also pepper in random links, which you absolutely should not click on.
6. OK, something stinks
Positive reviews can certainly push you over the edge on where to book, but don’t trust everything you read. Be wary of a large number of reviews around the same date, for instance. Yeah, 12 different reviews in a row or using the same language over and over is a red flag.
Been duped? Your next steps
If you’ve fallen victim to a vacation rental scam, you’re not alone. Even the savviest travelers get hoodwinked. Here’s what to do:
- Contact your local police department and report the scam. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- If you booked through a website like Airbnb or Vrbo, contact their customer service right away.
- If you paid for a rental with a credit or debit card outside of a reputable website, freeze your account and contact your bank ASAP.
👁️🗨️ Find any hidden cameras. OK, say you get there and it all looks great. Sorry, but it’s time to check for hidden cams. I found a dozen once! Step here if you need a how-to.