With prices rising on everything, including hotel stays, record numbers of vacationers are choosing to rent private homes or apartments instead. Unfortunately, vacation rental scams are also on the rise. Here is all you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.
How these scams play out
In one version, the vacation rental advertised on Airbnb, or on a similar site, does not exist or is in very poor condition. The scammer uses online images or doctored photos to create the bogus listing, and publishes several phony reviews. If a target falls for the scam and rents the “vacation rental,” they will be disappointed to arrive at the posted address on the listing and find that the rental does not exist or is quite run down.
In another variation, a vacationer unknowingly books a rental on an Airbnb look-alike site. Scammers lure their targets toward these sites by utilizing “URL squatting,” or creating a site that has a similar URL as a well-known site, which in this case, is Airbnb. The fake website enables scammers to capture the payment information of their victims.
In a more recent version of the vacation rental scam, criminals are exploiting people’s kindness and the war in Ukraine to con victims out of their money. Here is how it works: Generous donors are booking vacation rentals in Ukraine without intending to actually use them as a means to get money to Ukrainians. Airbnb has been supporting this initiative by waiving all host fees for rentals in Ukraine. Unfortunately, though, scammers have been creating fake listings in Ukraine and simply using the money to line their pockets.
Avoid a vacation rental scam by looking out for these warning signs:
- The listing is relatively new, yet seems to have multiple reviews from alleged past guests. This is especially true if the listing is in Ukraine.
- The listing is riddled with typos and spelling mistakes.
- The images of the listing look too professional and perfect.
- The pictures and description of the rental don’t match up to its price.
- The URL of the listing site is not secure.
- The owner asks you to finalize the reservation on a platform that is not the hosting platform.
- The owner insists on being paid via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.
- The owner demands you share more information than they should need for you to reserve a rental.
Take these steps to protect yourself from a vacation rental scam:
- Double-check the URL before booking a listing. Look for signs of a secure site, like the lock icon and the “s” after the “http”, and make sure you are still on the authentic host site, such as Airbnb.com, and that you haven’t been lured into a bogus look-alike site.
- Verify that the street address of a rental does indeed exist. You can also Google the address to see if there are any images associated with the address outside the vacation rental site.
- Do a reverse image search to confirm if the photos are doctored up or copied stock images.
- Never share sensitive information online with an unverified contact.
- Use a credit card for all online purchases.
To help protect yourself from fraudulent activity, make sure to utilize your Benefits Plus® checking account with SeaComm! Once you upgrade your basic checking to Benefits Plus®, you will gain access to a full range of fraud and identity-theft protection services, including fraud alerts, lost document recovery services, 90-day Purchase Protection, and much more. Click here for more information, or stop by your local SeaComm branch to enroll.
For complete information, terms, conditions and exclusions please visit www.benefits-plus.org or call 866-329-7587.
Stay informed with SeaComm’s Fraud Center. As your credit union, we want to keep you and your finances safe. That’s why we created our Fraud Center, which includes valuable resources to help educate and empower our members to protect their assets and identities. Click here to get started!