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Gorgeous Vacation Rental PropertyImagine planning the perfect honeymoon with a fun-filled itinerary. You score a local short-term rental that’s spacious, packed with amenities, and inexpensive. Right before check-in, the host calls you and profusely apologizes as he explains that your rental isn’t available. A plumbing problem, he says, before suggesting one of his nearby properties. You accept his offer, but you arrive and find the unit filthy, sparse, and haphazardly arranged. You cancel your reservation, but you’re slapped with cancellation fees. The rental platform refunds only a fraction of what you paid.

Congratulations. You’re a victim of the latest short-term vacation rental scam.

Ruses like these are more common than you may think. You don’t have to stop using vacation rentals, but learning how these scams work can help you avoid losing your honeymoon funds.

Fraud on a Massive Scale

Vacation rentals are a booming industry, but they provide perfect opportunities for sophisticated swindlers to con travelers out of their money. Journalist Allie Conti was a victim of a nationwide bait-and-switch scam on Airbnb, as she explained on an October 2019 Vice article. After booking one listing but being pushed into a lesser-quality unit, Conti investigated her host and discovered several related copycat Airbnb listings. With a little digging, she found the root of the scam: a Los Angeles contact fronting as a corporate rental company.

The Washington Post reported on another Airbnb scam that same month. A British couple booked a penthouse in Ibiza only to discover that it didn’t exist. Their experience wasn’t the same as Conti, and Airbnb refunded the money they’d paid. Yet this case also illustrates how easy it is to cheat travelers on popular vacation rental platforms. It’s not yet known how often renters fall victim to scams, but thousands of horror stories exist.

Common Tactics Scammers Use

Airbnb’s egregious loopholes allow would-be thieves to trick travelers, then take the money and run. As Conti reveals, Airbnb’s host verification process is weak and the company doesn’t carefully check listings. That’s why it’s easy for anyone to post stock photos of a gorgeous interior and claim that it’s their home. Obtaining a refund can be onerous, and the dispute policies can tend to favor hosts over guests. Even if a renter gets a partial refund, scammers can still walk away with a lot of money. These trends aren’t new, and other platforms aren’t immune to fraud. The Washington Post’s Christopher Elliot reported on VRBO scammers in 2011.

The Federal Trade Commission describes other methods that fraudsters use. They set up fake email accounts with the names of legitimate hosts or sometimes hijack a host’s original email account. They may push renters to book a listing quickly or insist that a renter wire a deposit to them. Extremely cheap listings are also a tip-off that they’re not legit.

Tips for Avoiding Fraud

Doing your homework pays off when it comes to vacay rentals. Lifehacker writer Josh Ocampo offers tips for spotting phony listings:

  • Perform reverse image searches on property photos. Stock images are a dead giveaway that a listing’s fake.
  • Verify the listing’s address. You can use Google Street View to check out the property and surrounding area.
  • Review hosts’ profiles. Look for ID-verified hosts or those with a “Superhost” badge.
  • Read previous host reviews. Even if you see positive feedback, review it carefully. If it’s all from local guests, the listing may be fraudulent.
  • Never book your travel via email.
  • Watch out for spoofed website links.
  • Use a credit card to book your rental. Never pay hosts directly.

Enjoy Your Scam-Free Honeymoon

Your honeymoon should be fun and memorable, but short-term rental scams can leave a dark mark on your experience. Research each listing and pay attention to suspicious signs. Above all, trust your gut. By following these tips, you can steer clear of fraud.

Category: Technology

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