Pandemic Puts Vacation Rental Scams on the Rise

Pandemic Puts Vacation Rental Scams on the Rise

A rising number of vacationers are finding that their getaway plans were too good to be true, according to a recent report by CNBC reporters and New York state attorney general Letitia James. With the possibility of a second “revenge summer” travel bonanza approaching in 2022, the price of vacation rentals is skyrocketing and it is getting harder and harder to find places to book. As would-be vacationers get desperate, scammers are able to take advantage of their desire to grab a good vacation deal before it is too late.

For example, one homeowner in Napa was surprised when two separate vacation renters showed up to stay in her garage. They had paid $800 each for the unit, which was purported to be a small efficiency in an attractive location. This was, indeed, accurate. However, the homeowner had not posted the garage for rent nor was it for lease. The entirety of both transactions had been carried out on Facebook Marketplace, and both renters said they had corresponded with the homeowner’s husband. Her husband had not taken any rental deposits or posted the garage for rent either. The entire thing had been a scam. The only real thing was the address of the home.

James explained, “Vacation fraud happens every year,” but warned that incidents are escalating. There are a number of red flags indicating a vacation property deal could be a scam, including:

If the property manager or owner asks you to pay them outside of the listing platform. Although Airbnb and Vrbo usually provide protections for renters, paying outside the platform violates their terms of use in many cases and makes it harder or impossible to recoup your money. Scammers will offer a discount if the renter pays via another payment platform or wires money, claiming that they will share the savings on fees in exchange.

If the listing has no reviews or has many extremely similar reviews. Fake listings for vacation rentals tend to have fake reviews or no reviews. If you see the same phrase in multiple reviews, this is a good warning signal.

The listing has grainy photos or the photos also appear on Google Images. Screen shot a listing image and search on Google Photos. If it appears in other listings or elsewhere online, the scammer behind the listing may have pulled the images off the internet and invented the entire property.

With vacation rentals a hotter real estate asset than ever, investors must be aware not only of the potential to generate great returns on short-term rentals but also the potential for fraudulent activity by people pretending to own these short-term rentals.