How to avoid vacation rental scams

Published Date: September 25, 2023

Traveler with yellow suitcase opening door of a house.
Vacation rentals are a popular accommodation option for many travelers, and it’s easy to see why. Compared to hotels, renting a private home (or a portion of one) has a lot of advantages. You’ll likely have more space than a hotel room, and having a kitchen and laundry facilities is convenient. Vacation rentals can also be more affordable than hotels, depending on your destination and length of stay. But while millions of people successfully book and stay in vacation rentals around the world every year, you do hear occasional horror stories of vacation rental scams. Here’s how to protect yourself from falling victim to a vacation rental scam. 

1. Do your research

Look at multiple listings within a neighborhood before deciding on one. Take a close look at the pictures and compare the prices across multiple listings. The listing you’re coveting should be priced similarly to other listings in the area, taking into consideration size and amenities. And while you might not have the specific property address before booking for the owner’s privacy, you should have a good feel for the neighborhood. Snoop around Google Maps and be sure it looks like a safe neighborhood that’s likely to have that type of listing. Google’s reverse image search is another invaluable tool. 

2. Read reviews 

Take the time to read reviews from previous renters. Reputable listings should have ratings and reviews from happy customers, or at the very least be forthcoming if they don’t have ratings if their listing is new. Above and beyond reading listing reviews, seek out reviews for the property management company or rental agent responsible for the property. Start by searching the name of the company alongside words like “complaint,” “scam” or “review.” 

3. Have multiple ways to contact the owner or agent

While it’s a best practice to contact the owner or property manager within the booking platform you’re using, be sure you have another way to get in contact with them — a phone number or email address, for example. They should also provide special instructions on who to contact if you have problems during your stay. 

4. Get your questions answered

One good sign of a legitimate owner or property manager is willingness and availability to answer your questions before you book. Not only should you get all your burning questions answered about the property, but you should ask a few questions about the surrounding area. The owner or property manager should know the area, so you’ll get a good feel for if they’re who they say they are. 

5. Keep communication and payment within the rental platform

Whether you’re using Airbnb, Vrbo, or another site, conduct all your business within the platform so you always have a paper trail. An owner or property manager who asks you to communicate via text or WhatsApp instead may be a rental scammer. An even bigger red flag? An owner or property manager who asks you to pay for the rental via a wire transfer or a third-party app, unaffiliated with the booking platform. 

6. Pay with a credit card

Most credit card companies provide protection from fraudulent charges, meaning you can be reimbursed if the rental ends up being fraudulent. Never pay with cash, check, wire transfer or gift card. 

7. Don’t share unnecessary personal information 

The property owner or management company doesn’t need information like your birthday, bank account number or Social Security number. Providing this kind of information may make you vulnerable to identity theft. 

8. Follow your gut

As with all things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you find a five-star property with ocean views and luxurious amenities for half the cost of neighboring listings, it’s probably a scam. Don’t let yourself be pressured to rush into a decision. Take the time to make sure everything feels legitimate. If it doesn’t, or you’re not sure, it’s best to go with another rental. 

9. Stay in your own place instead

One sure way to steer clear of vacation rental scams is to stay in your own vacation home! Pacaso puts second home ownership within reach for ⅛ the cost, thanks to LLC co-ownership. You’ll have all the benefits of a vacation rental (plenty of space and privacy, a fully furnished home and a well-stocked kitchen) without the risk that comes with staying somewhere unknown. Plus, Pacaso offers several advantages to owning a traditional vacation home.Pacaso second homes are available in top vacation destinations across the country and beyond, whether you’re looking for a beachfront escape, a Wine Country getaway, desert oasis or a mountain chalet. Best of all, you have the services of a dedicated property manager who makes sure the house is ready for every visit. 

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Jen Lyons

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