While renting a home instead of booking a hotel room has become a hugely popular choice for vacationers, there is a rising occurrence of vacation home scams to watch out for says Christine Karpinski, author of “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition.” However, taking certain precautions can greatly reduce this risk. Karpinski offers the following eight tips to help you safely book your vacation home in today’s environment:
• Beware of super-cheap rates. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The most common way scammers work is by enticing a large number of travelers in a short period of time. They do this by low-balling the rental rates.
• Do some digging to make sure the owner really is the owner. Many states make it easy to look up property tax records. Google the property appraiser in the county where the property is located to make sure the person you are renting from actually owns the property. You might also Google the homeowner’s association and look for a phone number on the website. Call the HOA and ask if the owners really are the owners.
• Cyber-stalk the owner. Do some cross-referencing across various websites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so forth. Make sure the place of residence (where the owner lives—not where the vacation home is located) is the same as the information the owner provided.
Also, Karpinski suggests Googling the phone number listed on the advertisement. Many property owners and managers list their homes on many different websites. If you Google the phone number listed on the ad in this format XXX XXX-XXX (area code, space, first three digits, dash, last four digits) many other websites that the property is listed on should show up in search results.
• Look for clues in the reviews. When you are reading the reviews of the property (either on the vacation rental website or on other sites such as TripAdvisor.com), there are sometimes references to the owners’ names. A review might say something like: “Thanks, Tom and Christine, for allowing us to rent your lovely home…” If the names in the reviews do NOT match the name of the person renting the home to you, it could be a sign that something is not right.
• Speak with the owner via phone. Sure, it’s possible to be scammed over the phone. However, it’s usually easier to fool someone when you’re communicating via type. If the owner sounds warm and engaging and seems to know her stuff, you’re probably okay. If she sounds guarded or uncertain, you might have reason to worry. Also, says Karpinski, when you get someone on the phone, you can ask specific questions—and listen carefully to the answers.
• Pay only by credit card. Don’t use PayPal, don’t send a personal check, and NEVER, EVER pay by wire transfer, advises Karpinski.
• Go with one of the major vacation rental websites. You’re probably safest choosing a site like HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey, or Airbnb. Of course, a respected name doesn’t guarantee a 100 percent safe transaction—there have been instances of owners having their email accounts hijacked by scammers—but the major websites tend to have better safeguards in place.
• Listen to your gut…it’s often right. Do your research. Call the property owner. Listen carefully to everything he or she has to say. If something just feels “off,” move on to another property, advises Karpinski.
Published with permission from RISMedia.