Florida warns tourists against fake vacation rentals

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has issued an official consumer alert, warning tourists across the country to beware of vacation rental scams this summer.

“Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country. Scammers will take advantage of this by creating fake vacation rental listings in hopes of stealing personal information and money. ‘State or out of state, be sure to take extra precautions when renting a vacation home to avoid getting burned out this summer vacation season,’ Moody said.

Florida beaches attract millions of tourists every year, but the Sunshine State is notorious for its scams. Some cybersecurity experts call Florida the “scam capitol of the world,” but rental scams have spread across the country. In July, the Boston Division of the FBI warned Americans about increasing rental scams.

According to the FBI, scammers steal money in short-term and long-term rental scams. FBI data shows that 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 to these types of scams in 2021, a 64% increase from the previous year.

Vacation rental scams are flooding Craigslist and Facebook.
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“I have heard of several incidents where the family is ready for a vacation and they have actually flown to Miami or they have flown to Fort Lauderdale and then approached the actual property. They actually knocked on the door, and the owner came out and said, you know, I don’t know anything about that,” said cybersecurity expert Hiram Del Amo.

Del Amo warns that vacation rental scams are flooding Craigslist and Facebook. In fact, some experts estimate that one in five online rental ads are fake.

“I would say about 20-25% is probably fraud.” said Del Amo.

Families who have fallen for these scams have lost thousands of dollars.

Rental scam note
Some experts estimate that one in five online rental ads is fake.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

“We left Tennessee at 3:00 a.m. We arrived in Panama City around 11:30 a.m. I prepared to message him via Facebook, just to let him know we were there, what we were driving, and where we were parked. and that’s when she blocked me on facebook.

Katie Hall has been scrambling to find a new place to stay with her husband and their three young boys. The family was able to obtain alternative accommodation, but never got their money back.

“The original cost we lost was $1,425, that was for the original condo itself. Then we had to make other plans and arrangements, so like I said, we weren’t going to turn around and go back to Tennessee, so we had to find another hotel,” Hall said.

    Hotel on the beach
Experts advise paying with a credit card instead of cash and using a reputable rental site that offers fraud protection.
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Even though scams are on the rise, there are ways to protect yourself. The Florida AG shared this advice:

  • Be aware that ads forcing consumers to leave the online platform or website to pay are a major red flag;
  • Check if the rental property photos are affiliated with other listings using a reverse image search;
  • If anything looks suspicious, ask for additional photos of the listing;
  • Use a reputable rental website that offers fraud protection or payment transfer options;
  • Make payments through a payment portal on the listing’s website to ensure the money is locked in until the keys are in hand;
  • Don’t rely solely on email to contact the owner and beware of listings with foreign phone numbers;
  • Check reviews and, if possible, visit the property to make sure everything is up to standard; and
  • Pay for a rental with a credit card because it’s easier to dispute a fraudulent charge.
FBI data shows that 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 in 2021, a 64% increase from the previous year.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Never pay cash, never pay by money order, and never pay by any means that you can never withdraw that amount of money. Because that’s what they are looking for. They will never ask you for a card credit because they know it’s going to be paid back,” Del Amo said.

Facebook and Craigslist warned users to beware of scams and also shared several tips for avoiding scams. Both companies have also asked users to report any suspicious activity.

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