With prices rising on everything, including hotel stays, record numbers of vacationers are renting vacation homes on Airbnb and VRBO. Unfortunately, though, vacation rental scams are on the rise as well. Here’s all you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.
How these scams play out
There are several variations of vacation rental scams.
In one version, the vacation rental advertised on Airbnb or a similar site doesn’t exist or is in poor condition. The scammer uses online images or doctored photos to create the bogus listing and creates several phony reviews. When vacationers arrive at the listing address, they find that the rental doesn’t exist or is quite run down.
In another version, the vacationer receives a message from the property owner before their arrival about a last-minute plumbing emergency. They are directed to another vacation rental instead. This substitute rental is in far worse condition than the one the vacationer had actually rented.
In yet another variation, a vacationer unknowingly books a rental on an Airbnb look-alike site. Scammers lure their targets to these sites through “URL squatting,” or creating a site with a similar URL. The fake website allows scammers to capture the payment information of their victims and empty their accounts, or worse.
More recently, criminals are exploiting people’s kindness and the war in Ukraine to con victims out of their money. Generous donors are booking vacation rentals in Ukraine without intending to use them to get money to Ukrainians. Airbnb has been supporting this initiative by waiving all host fees for rentals in Ukraine. Unfortunately, scammers have been creating fake listings in Ukraine and simply using the money to line their pockets.
Avoid a vacation rental scam by looking out for these warning signs:
- The listing is relatively new yet seems to have multiple reviews from alleged past guests. This is especially true if the listing is in Ukraine.
- The listing is riddled with typos and spelling mistakes.
- The images of the listing look too professional and perfect.
- The pictures and description of the rental don’t match up to its price.
- The URL of the listing site is not secure.
- The owner asks you to finalize the reservation on a platform that is not the hosting platform.
- The owner insists on being paid via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.
- The owner demands you share more information than they should need for you to reserve a rental.
Take these steps to protect yourself from a vacation rental scam:
- Check, double-check and triple-check the URL before booking a listing. Look for signs of a secure site, like an “s” after the “https” and the lock icon. Ensure you’re still on the authentic host site, like Airbnb.com and that you haven’t been lured to a spoofed site.
- Verify that the street address of the vacation rental does indeed exist. Also, Google the address to see if there are any images associated with it outside the vacation rental site.
- Do a reverse image search to confirm if the photos are doctored up or copied stock images.
- Never share sensitive information online with an unverified contact.
- Use a credit card for all online purchases.
- Do an online search of the owner and look for anything suspicious.
Don’t let your dream vacation turn into a nightmare. Follow the tips outlined here and stay safe!