Summer is the season for vacation rental scams

Photo (c) Gerasimov174 - Getty Images

Florida’s attorney general offers tips for spotting one

Jammed airports may be the most visible sign that Americans are in the mood to travel again after two years of a pandemic. Another sign is the sharp increase in hotel and vacation rental bookings.

While booking a hotel room is pretty straightforward, scammers have recently capitalized on the growing popularity of short-term vacation rentals to post fraudulent listings. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has seen an increase in complaints as the summer vacation season heats up.

“Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the nation,” Moody said. “Scammers will take advantage of this by creating fake vacation rental listings in hopes of stealing personal information and money. Whether you are traveling within the state or from out of state, make sure to take extra precautions when renting a vacation home to avoid being burned this summer vacation season.”

It’s easy to create a fake listing

Scammers can easily steal pictures of actual homes and apartments from real estate sites. Once they put an ad together, they can offer the fake property on social media or through classified sites like Craigslist.

The scammers often request an application fee or security deposit. In an even bigger red flag, they may ask to be paid using gift cards instead of credit cards. Families may also show up on the day of vacation and find that the actual owners of the property have no record or intention of renting. 

The chances of being scammed are less when you book through a short-term rental platform like Airbnb or Vrbo. But scammers have been known to invade those platforms with fake properties and then ask for payment outside the platform.

Moody says that is a dead giveaway that the property is a scam. Payments should always be made through the platform, which will accept a credit card and hold the money and pay the host at the appropriate time.

Red flags

Moody says there are several steps consumers can take to ensure that they're not falling victim to a vacation property scam. Here's what she advises:

  • Check to see if photos of the rental property are affiliated with other listings by using a reverse image search

  • If something seems suspicious, ask for additional photos of the listing

  • Use a reputable rental website that offers protection in the event of fraud or offers payment transfer options

  • Make payments through a payment portal on the listing website to ensure money is held in escrow until keys are in hand

  • Do not rely solely on email to contact the landlord and be wary of listings with foreign telephone numbers

  • Check for reviews and, if possible, visit the property to ensure everything is up to par

  • Pay for a rental with a credit card since it is easier to dispute a fraudulent charge

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