Finding a good vacation rental online can make you feel like you won the lottery, right up until you get there and realize the place isn't close to was advertised. The vacation rental business is booming, thanks to sites like Airbnb, Vrbo and others, but there’s no shortage of fraudsters using fake listings to scam people out of their money.
“Vacation rental scams can happen on any online platform,” travel blogger Rocky Trifari explains. “Scammers are constantly testing new methods of deception with hopes of luring in unsuspecting victims.”
To help make sure you don’t get conned, travel experts share signs of a fraudulent listing and how to avoid falling for a scam.
- The listing seems too good to be true - “First and foremost, if a listing seems too good to be true, then it most probably is,” says Aiden Joseph, senior editor at The Broke Backpacker. While you’re searching, you get a feel for the pricing in different areas, if you see something that’s an impossibly good value or that offers luxury features that don’t match the cost, travel expert Blake Walsh advises checking the reviews and host to see if it’s real.
- The host pushes for external communication - Walsh says this is a big red flag, as it’s important to keep all communication on the booking site “to ensure the best security and safety for your details and information.”
- They ask for direct payment - Scammers will often ask you to pay directly via Venmo, PayPal, Zelle or a bank transfer or wire, but Mike Keenan, general counsel at the vacation rental company Evolve, recommends travelers only book and pay through the booking platforms.
- The reviews are questionable - Look for properties with a lot of reviews and actually read them so you know if they feel legit. Joseph says if a lot of reviews were written in short succession, or they use a lot of the same language, that’s another warning sign.
- There’s pressure to book - If a host pushes you to book quickly, it could be a scam. Trifari notes, “High pressure sales tactics should always be your number one red flag.”
- A Google search shows discrepancies - Vacation rental owners often list on multiple platforms, so Keenan advises searching for a listing on multiple sites to make sure they’re consistent. Make sure details like location and amenities are the same on all listings and even do a reverse image search for the photos in the listing to make sure they’re not just stock images or don’t go with the property.