July 4th typically signals the start of summer vacation for many folks. School is out, and the work-weary look forward to days spent on beaches or in the mountains, theme parks, and sight-seeing tours. It’s prime time for booking vacation rentals. But there may be a “snake” lurking in your particular vacation paradise. The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to be on alert for vacation rental scams.
In this scenario, swindlers take out fake vacation rental ads, and their plan is to steal your money and leave you with no place to stay, the FTC said in a blog post.
Here are some of the ways fraudsters scam to steal your hard-earned vacation money, the FTC reported.
Some scammers start with real rental listings. Then they take off the real owner’s contact information, put in theirs, and place the new listing on a different rental site — though they might continue to use the name of the actual owner. In other cases, scammers hijack email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.
Other scammers make up listings for places that aren’t really for rent or don’t exist. To get people to act fast, they often ask for lower than average rent or promise luxury accommodations. Their goal is to steal your money before you have time to think and find out the truth.
The FTC provides the follow tips so that you can steer clear of rental scams:
- Don’t wire money or pay with a prepaid or gift card for a vacation rental. Once the scammer collects the money, it is almost impossible to get it back.
- Don’t be rushed into a decision. If you receive an email pressing you to make a decision on the spot for a rental, ignore it and move on.
- Don’t be fooled by super cheap rates for premium vacation properties. Below-market rent can be a sign of a scam. If it sounds too good to be true — it usually is. You will need to do some extra research to confirm the deal is legit before signing anything.
- Get a copy of the contract before you send any deposit money. Check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm the location of the property and other details specified on the contract.
If you spot suspicious ads, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint, whether or not you lost money.
The FTC recommends that if you sent money to a rental scammer, contact the company you used to send the money, such as your bank, Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot, iTunes or Amazon, and tell them the transaction is fraudulent. They may not be able to get your money back, but it is important to alert them of fraud to prevent others from becoming victims.