Ready to start booking your next vacation? Maybe you’re thinking about renting a house or condo. 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.
Just this year, the FTC received thousands of complaints related to rental scams. Some complaints are from people who wired money to lease a vacation property, and then learned that the person they were dealing with was not the actual owner. Other complaints are from renters who were asked to pay upfront using PayPal, only to find out later that PayPal doesn’t offer the same protections for services and intangible goods — like real estate rentals — as for physical items. In both scenarios, the people wanting to rent a vacation property lost money. Here are some tips to help you avoid this scheme:
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 asks you to pay in full upfront and requires payment via MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot cards, it could be a scam. Don’t be rushed into a decision. If you receive an email pressuring you to make a decision on the spot for a rental, ignore it and move on. 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.
Get a copy of the contract before you send any deposit money. Check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm the location of the property and other details on the contract.
If you responded to an ad for a vacation rental property and believe that you were scammed, report it at ftc.gov/complaint. You also can contact the fraud department of the website where you found the ad. You may not get your money back, but you can help others by getting the ad removed.