Book a vacation rental? Here’s how to avoid scams on platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo

Alaska resident Madi Huffmann thought she had found the perfect Airbnb stay for her winter vacation in London in 2019.

“It looked great on the page,” said the 20-year-old, who was traveling with a friend at the time. “It was in a good location (and) there were some really cute rooms.

But days before she arrived, she said her host told her the rental was undergoing maintenance and the two would be moved to another building across the street.

Turns out their new Airbnb was very different of what they originally signed up for.

Not only was it in a completely different neighborhood, but Huffmann described the rental as dirty, with dead rats on the stairs of the building and a thermostat stuck on the highest setting.

“It was so sketchy,” she said. “It was in an area where we weren’t quite comfortable being outside after dark. … It was just disappointing.

Madi Huffmann and Keishanique Moton-Tyler pose for a photo outside Buckingham Palace during their winter vacation in Europe in December 2019.

While vacation rental platform scams are rare, they can increase during busy travel times like the July 4 weekend, according to Tarik Dogru, assistant professor of hotel management at Florida State University.

“(There are) hosts who… want to take advantage of travelers and know about the loopholes in the system,” Dogru said. “If you are considering booking… you need to do your due diligence. “

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What do vacation rental scams look like?

Dogru said the bait-and-swap vacation rental scam, like the one Huffmann encountered, is one of the most common. He encountered the same scam himself while visiting New Orleans.

“We booked a seat and went – it looked very different from the one in the photos,” he said, adding that the host later admitted it was a different building than the one shown in the list.

“It wasn’t a bad place, but it was a different place,” Dogru said.

While scams on vacation rental platforms are rare, they do exist.

While scams on vacation rental platforms are rare, they do exist.

In these scenarios, hosts typically attribute the last-minute change to the flooding, or say the original list needed maintenance.

A post 2018 of the Federal Trade Commission added that there are scammers who attempt to impersonate real listings, replacing the owner’s contact information with their own and listing the property on a separate site. Others create ads for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, but get tenants to act quickly by offering low prices. In these scenarios, crooks run away with the money while tenants are left with no place to stay.

The FTC did not respond to a request for comment.

Other hosts may try to squeeze money from their guests by blaming them for damage that was already there, Dogru said. To avoid this, he suggested that tenants take photos of the property as soon as they arrive.

How to avoid vacation rental scams?

As travel picks up, research shows scammers are seizing the opportunity to make quick cash by cheating on tourists. The Bolster fraud prevention platform expects to find more than 5,300 travel-related scam sites by the end of the month, more than four times the 1,260 found at the end of January 2021.

A screenshot shows a fake Airbnb login page.

A screenshot shows a fake Airbnb login page.

Vacation rental platforms require users to book and pay only through their verified websites and apps to avoid potential scams.

“Airbnb is an end-to-end platform, which handles all payments,” said Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco. “As long as you book on Airbnb, communicate on Airbnb, and pay on Airbnb, we can help you avoid these malicious third-party travel scams. “

Vrbo spokesperson Melanie Fish added that scams on rental sites are “incredibly rare”, accounting for less than 1% of all bookings on Vrbo. The company offers a 24-hour customer service team that can help users who have any issues.

Fish added that renters should be wary of ads that sound too good to be true.

“If you see a Craigslist article about a beach house that’s still available for the 4th of July vacation for a bargain price, listen to the alarm bells ringing in your head,” she said.

Hosts with a “Super Host” or “Premier host” badge are often more credible because they have proven themselves with the short-term rental platform. It is also a good idea to comb through the comments section, Dogru said.

If a traveler is having issues with their rental, Dogru said he should ask the host to cancel the listing to avoid any charges.

The FTC also presented a number of tips in 2018 to help travelers avoid vacation rental scams:

  • Do not transfer money or pay for a vacation rental with a prepaid card or gift card.

  • Don’t be forced to book. If you receive an email urging you to make a quick decision on the spot and book a rental, ignore it.

  • Beware of below market rents.

  • Get a copy of a contract before you send a money deposit and make sure the address listed actually exists. If the address is in a resort, call the front desk and make sure the contract details are correct.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to avoid scams on vacation rental platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo

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