A vacation rental scams is a fraudulent scheme that involves the rental of vacation properties. Scammers often use fake listings, high-pressure sales tactics, or payment scams to trick victims into paying for a vacation rental that they will never receive.
Vacation rentals have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering travelers a convenient and often more affordable alternative to traditional hotels. However, this popularity has also made them a target for scammers. In 2024, there were an estimated 50,000 vacation rental scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), resulting in losses of over $10 million.
Common Vacation Rental Scams
Here are some of the most common vacation rental scams:
Scammers create fake websites or social media pages to advertise nonexistent vacation rentals. They may use stolen photos or copy descriptions from legitimate listings to make their ads appear authentic. Once you pay a deposit, they will disappear and you will never see your money or the property.
- Suspiciously low prices (if it’s too good to be true, it probably is)
- Poor grammar or punctuation
- Lack of photos or only stock photos
- Requests for payment outside the rental site
Scammers may pressure you to book a reservation immediately, often using limited-time offers or fear-of-missing-out tactics. They may also request payment through methods that are difficult to trace, such as wire transfers or gift cards.
- Urgency tactics (property is in high demand, you need to book right away)
- Pressure to book without seeing the property
- Requests for personal information
Scammers may try to collect payment through methods that are difficult to trace, such as wire transfers or gift cards. This makes it more difficult for you to get your money back if you’re scammed.
- Requests for payment outside of the rental site
- Requests for wire transfers or gift cards
- Vague payment instructions
Personal Information Scams:
Scammers may collect your personal information, such as your credit card number or social security number, under the pretext of processing your reservation. They can then use this information to commit identity theft.
- Requests for more personal information than necessary
- Requests for information that is not relevant to the reservation
- Unsecure websites or emails
Unauthorized Agent Scam:
A scammer poses as an authorized agent of a legitimate vacation rental company and tries to collect payments for rentals that do not exist.
- You receive an email or message from someone claiming to be an agent from a rental company.
- The agent asks for personal information or payment before you have seen the property.
- The agent instructs you to wire money or send a gift card instead of using the rental company’s secure payment system.
Double Booking Scam:
A scammer rents out the same property to multiple guests, knowing that one or more of them will not be able to stay.
- You receive a confirmation email from a rental company, but the property is unavailable when you arrive.
- The property manager or owner is unable to provide you with the contact information of the other guests.
- The property manager or owner is evasive or does not respond to your inquiries.
** Bogus Damage Fees:**
A scammer rents out a property and then charges the guest a large fee for damages that were not caused by the guest.
- You receive a damage bill after you check out of the property, but you did not cause any damage.
- The damage bill is significantly higher than the estimated cost of repairs.
- The property manager or owner is unwilling to provide documentation of the damage.
Hidden Cameras Scam:
A scammer installs hidden cameras in a vacation rental to spy on guests.
- You notice strange objects or devices in the property that you cannot identify.
- You feel uncomfortable or uneasy in the property, and you suspect that you are being watched.
- You find evidence of hidden cameras, such as small holes or wires.
Review Manipulation Scam:
Scammers post fake positive reviews about a vacation rental to make it appear more appealing to potential guests.
- The reviews are all very similar in tone and language.
- The reviews are all written by accounts that were created recently.
- The reviews contain unrealistic or exaggerated praise for the property.
Refund Refusal Scam:
A refund refusal scam is a type of vacation rental scam that occurs when a scammer denies a guest’s request for a refund after they cancel their reservation. This type of scam can be very frustrating and costly for the victim, as they may be left out of pocket for the full cost of their reservation.
- The property manager or owner is unwilling to provide a refund, even if the cancellation policy allows for it.
- The property manager or owner is evasive about the reasons for refusing the refund.
- The property manager or owner demands additional fees or charges in order to process the refund.
- The property manager or owner provides misleading or false information about the refund process.
- The property manager or owner becomes hostile or threatening when you try to pursue the refund.
Protecting Yourself from Scams
How to Protect Yourself from a Refund Refusal Scam:
- Choose a reputable rental platform: Use a well-known and reputable rental platform, such as Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway. These platforms have fraud protection measures in place to help protect you.
- Read the cancellation policy carefully: Before you book, carefully read the cancellation policy of the rental platform and the individual property. This will help you understand your rights and responsibilities in the event of a cancellation.
- Save all communication: Save all communication with the property manager or owner, including emails, messages, and phone calls. This documentation may be helpful if you need to dispute the refund.
- Document the reason for your cancellation: If you cancel your reservation, be sure to document the reason for your cancellation. This could include a copy of a medical note, a copy of a death certificate, or a copy of a flight cancellation.
- Dispute the charge with your credit card company: If the property manager or owner refuses to provide a refund, you may be able to dispute the charge with your credit card company. This is especially true if you used your credit card to make the deposit.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau: If you have been a victim of a refund refusal scam, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. This will help the BBB track down the scammer and warn other potential victims.
- Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission: You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC can investigate the scam and take action against the scammers.
Additional Tips for Avoiding Vacation Rental Scams
- Do your research: Before you book a vacation rental, do your research. Read reviews of the property and the property manager or owner. You can also check for complaints about the property or the property manager or owner on websites like the Better Business Bureau and Ripoff Report.
- Beware of unsolicited offers: If you receive an unsolicited email or text message about a vacation rental, be cautious. Scammers often use these methods to reach potential victims.
- Avoid making payments outside of the rental platform: Legitimate rental platforms will handle payments securely. If the property manager or owner asks for payment through a wire transfer or gift card, it’s a scam.
- Don’t provide personal information: Only provide the property manager or owner with the personal information that they need to process your reservation. Be wary of requests for more personal information than necessary.
- Be suspicious of suspiciously low prices: If a rental seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often use inflated prices to lure victims into paying deposits.
- Require a physical tour: Before booking, ask to see the property in person or request a video tour. If the owner is unwilling to provide a tour, it’s a red flag.
By following these tips, you can help protect yourself from vacation rental scams and enjoy your next vacation without worry.
Report Vacation Rental Scams:
Here are 10 resources where you can report vacation rental scams:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC is the government agency that protects consumers from fraud. You can file a complaint with the FTC online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/ or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
- Your state attorney general: Your state attorney general’s office may also be able to help you report a vacation rental scam. You can find your state attorney general’s contact information online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
- The Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB is a nonprofit organization that provides information about businesses to consumers. You can file a complaint with the BBB online at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/reportscam: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/reportscam or by calling 1-800-955-5100.
- The host’s platform: If you booked your vacation rental through a platform like Airbnb or VRBO, you can also report the scam to the platform. Airbnb has a dedicated page for reporting scams https://answers.gethuman.com/AirBnB/How-Do-I-Report-Fraud-to-AirBnB/how-fKQ: https://answers.gethuman.com/AirBnB/How-Do-I-Report-Fraud-to-AirBnB/how-fKQ.
- The vacation rental website: If you booked your vacation rental directly through the property owner’s website, you can also report the scam to the website.
- Social media: You can also report vacation rental scams on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to include as much information as possible about the scam, including the name of the vacation rental, the contact information of the scammer, and any other relevant details.
- Online forums: There are many online forums where people can share information about vacation rental scams. You can search for forums related to your vacation destination or the rental platform you used.
- News outlets: You can also report vacation rental scams to local news outlets. This can help to raise awareness of the problem and put pressure on authorities to take action.
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): The IC3 is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. You can file a complaint with the IC3 online at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
- The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC): The CAFC is the Canadian government agency that investigates and prevents fraud. You can file a complaint with the CAFC online at https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/reportincident-signalerincident/index-eng.htm: https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/reportincident-signalerincident/index-eng.htm.
By reporting vacation rental scams, you can help to protect others from becoming victims. You can also help law enforcement to track down scammers and bring them to justice.