How To Protect Yourself Against Vacation Rental Scams This Summer

Young woman staying in Pousada on vacation in Brazil, bright sunlight, looking at view.
JohnnyGreig / Getty Images

Pandemic fatigue is wearing off and Americans’ wanderlust is kicking in. Be careful, though — with summer approaching, there are renewed warnings about scams on vacation rentals and tips on what you can do to avoid them.

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New York Attorney General Letitia James said that consumers should be mindful of scammers who misrepresent rentals or list fake homes online that do not actually exist, tricking people into paying and leaving them with nowhere to stay.

“Scammers don’t take the summer off,” James said in a consumer alert. “Summer plans can quickly melt if consumers aren’t careful when they book their getaway. Vacation fraud happens every year, but there are ways to avoid it and protect yourself from getting burned. School might be out, but don’t forget to do your homework — take the time to verify the host and read online reviews to ensure that vacation rentals are real and not a dupe. All year, my office is working to protect New Yorkers’ wallets from scammers, and we encourage anyone to report this fraud to our office.”

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There are precautions you can take, however, and James offered some tips to follow before booking a rental.

First, verify the host. Make sure they have a valid address and phone number, and check that the listing has reviews and read the reviews.

“Be wary of listings on websites like Airbnb or VRBO that do not have any reviews listed. When reading reviews, check for multiple reviews that repeat the same phrases — that could be a sign that the reviews are fake,” said James.

Next, be mindful of the photos and check that they have not been stolen from another website. For example, you can use reverse image search of photos of the rental to ensure that they have not been listed on another website.

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You should also only communicate only through the listing site, as one way scammers try to trick consumers is by first posting a listing on a site like Airbnb or VRBO, and then requiring you to communicate directly with the host outside the website or app to book the listing.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Do not share your email address or phone number with the host or renter before your booking is accepted,” the consumer alert added.

Other tips include:

  • Only book with a credit card or debit card. Use verified payment sources such as a major debit or credit card, which can be traced in the event something goes wrong. One advantage of using a credit card specifically is that you have certain protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows you to dispute unauthorized charges.
  • Only make payments through the listing site. If using a site such as Airbnb or VRBO, make all payments through the site, as they may be able to refund you if you are defrauded.
  • Never make wire payments or cash payments using a wire transfer service or money transfer service such as Western Union, Money Gram, Zelle, CashApp or Venmo.
  • You may be asked to make a security deposit, but generally, you cannot be required to pay more than one month’s security deposit, which the owner can apply to cover any damages caused by you or unpaid rent. Otherwise, the owner must return the deposit to you at the conclusion of the rental.

Finally, know your rights. It is illegal for a host to deny a vacation rental to you based on your race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, disability or marital status.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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