Vacation rental scams — what to watch out for

Thinking about one last getaway before summer ends? Renting a home for vacation at your favorite destination may be the answer. Vacations are supposed to be for decompressing and relaxation, but too often, people fall victim to scammers looking to deceive them out of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

BBB’s Scam Tracker took 153 reports of travel and vacation scams between Jan. 1 and June 15, 2016. Consumers reported an average loss of about $1,230 each.

Scammers use multiple strategies to bilk victims looking to escape on vacation. However, typically, vacation rental scams begin with an advertisement for a vacation rental spot that seems too good to be true. The ad usually features a beautiful picture of the property along with a very cheap price. Once intrigued, the renter inquires about making a reservation. The scam artist asks for a deposit upfront, usually through a wire transfer or pre-paid money card. In the end, the victim finds the vacation spot doesn’t actually exist or it’s been misrepresented.

July is National Vacation Rental Month, and your BBB offers some helpful tips to avoid vacation scams:

• Don’t be fooled by photos posted online. Do your own research and use online applications (Google Maps, Google Earth, Street View, etc.) to see if the location is where it says it is. It’s common for these scammers to use pictures they’ve hijacked from legitimate websites.

• Search names, addresses and phone numbers online to validate who you’re speaking with.

• Never pay by wire transfer or pre-paid money card. Use a credit card or Pay Pal. Money is easier to track that way.

• Ask for a copy of the rental contract and read it before you pay a deposit. Make sure you know all the terms and conditions, including the cancellation policy.

• Verify reservations directly with any companies involved (airline, rental car company, hotel, cruise line, etc.) to confirm arrangements have actually been made to your specifications.

• Don’t rely solely on e-mail. It’s a red flag if a landlord won’t provide an address or phone number.

• Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’d like to learn more about vacation scams or check out companies offering vacation rentals, visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776–5301

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John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

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