With the growing popularity of vacation rentals, both through property management companies and private owners, scammers are realizing the potential to make money at others expense through false vacation rental listings. As we enter in to the busy summer booking season, this is even more prevalent.
Not long ago a family called the office on a Friday afternoon, to say they were at their rental property and needed information on how to access the vacation rental. After looking through our scheduled arrivals for the day, there was no record of a reservation for this family. The name on the scheduled arrivals list, was not for this family.
It turns out, that they had found the listing on Craigslist and contacted the host to book. The photos, description and address matched that of a Buckingham vacation rental home. However, the rental price on the rental was significantly lower than Buckingham’s prices. Not realizing the listing was a scam, the guest followed instructions to wire money to confirm the rental. As it turned out, they sent their money to a scammer, who was later unreachable. Upon arriving to the vacation rental home, they saw a Buckingham sign with our phone number on it. We were able to put the family in to a vacant vacation rental property, however they were not able to recover their money.
As a property management company in South Lake Tahoe, we at Buckingham want to arm all visitors with the tools to avoid being a victim to a similar scam. Here are just a few easy steps to take when starting your search for your perfect vacation rental.
If you are nervous about getting scammed, rent from a property management company rather than a private owner. By choosing a business rather than a private owner, you are able to confirm legitimacy. Any real business will have a business license and a tax ID number. Call the local Chamber Office and confirm that the business in question does exist. Stick to reputable listing sites, like VRBO and Airbnb when searching. These companies are committed to protecting both owners and renters. Craigslist, on the other hand, does not offer any such commitment. If you do find a listing on Craigslist, ask the host to provide the website. Most scammers will not have their own website (too easy to track down after they take your money).
A good rule to follow is to never wire money. If the host does ask for a wire transfer, it is most likely a scam. A valid property management company will be able to take multiple forms of payment, from checks to credit cards. If you are worried, use a credit card rather than sending a check. Most major credit cards offer fraud protection, and you may be able to recover your funds if scammed. Never send cash. Choose a method that will protect you if something bad happens. Don’t send payment until you have seen a reservation confirmation or contract. Something as simple as checking that the logos match from where you first found the house can expose a scam.
Take Your Time
You want your vacation to be perfect, and finding a vacation home is a major part of that. Do your research and don’t book rashly. Enter the address listed into Google and verify that the exterior pictures match the street views. Some scammers will use photos from one listing, and a description from another. All from copy-written material of an existing (and legitimate) vacation rental. After emailing with the owner/manager, give them a call to book the property rather than all via email. Any proper business will have a phone number provided and will gladly talk to potential renters. Confirm that the person you have been emailing actually works for the company. If you are visiting an area where you have friends, have them visit the company or even see if they can view the home. Property management companies want your business and will be accommodating to requests like this.
Be a Repeat Customer
Once you find a vacation rental manager and home you enjoy staying with, stick with it! Unless your party triples in size, rent the same home every year. Developing a relationship with the owner/property manager can sometimes get you preferential treatment and a better deal on the home. Working with a property management company also has the benefit that they will have more listings in your chosen area. If you need a larger home, chances are they will be able to provide you with a suitable alternative. If you are venturing to another location, ask the company you normally rent from if they have any referrals. Many managers (us included) are part of the Vacation Rental Managers Association and develop contacts all over the country.
If you are searching on sites like VRBO, Flipkey and Airbnb most homes will have reviews from past guests. If you find a home that has no reviews, research it a bit more. Aside from reviews on listing sites, go to the web and social media. Yelp and Google+ are popular spots for reviews, and most companies will have a presence on both. With the growth of social media in business, you can also bet that a legitimate company will have at least a Facebook page. With these resources at our fingertips, take some time and due some research.
Always do your due diligence, and put in the time when searching for the perfect vacation rental home. If it is too good to be true, it most likely is. Discounts are common, but be realistic about it. If you find a five bedroom lakefront home for $100 per night, it is worth more investigation. We don’t want to see any of our South Lake Tahoe visitors being scammed!