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5 Ways To Avoid Vacation Rental Scams

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I think one of the things I find fascinating about vacation rental scams is that there are scams in both directions. There are high profile stories of people renting very nice properties and then not treating them very well at all. These stories get a lot of press but what I didn't realize at first is that scammers work in the opposite direction as well. They post fake properties, happily accept the deposit, and then aren't around when you arrive at an empty lot instead of the glamorous villa you thought you rented. I shouldn't be surprised - online trust is hard. You are dealing with total strangers and it's easy for them to hide their identity. Look at this beautiful photograph (available at http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3705557) - it's not a scam, I checked. But how can you be sure?

I'm assuming you aren't a terrible person who is going to rent a beautiful home and then use the property to host a huge, drunken orgy and destroy everything. I'm also assuming you aren't going to steal everything of value and then spray paint all over whatever is left. So that means, you are probably worried about the second kind of scam. This is for you:

1. Make sure the property is real

OK, that sounds silly but a quick search on Google Maps (street view search) will tell you a lot. That beachfront home you see in the listing cannot be located in that industrial area in the middle of town. If you know someone in that town, ask them to drive by and check it out. You can even hire people to do this for you at wegolook.com or a similar service. 

2. Do some research online

Do some research on your chosen property and its owner BEFORE you pay a deposit. Conduct an online search for the owner's name, the property address, images of the property and who pays the property taxes. Look for obvious discrepancies - the same text or photos used for multiple listings, for example.

3. Consider your source

There are many sophisticated websites that owners use to list property - HomeAway, VRBO, AirBnB and many, many others. These organizations work hard to protect renters and some have verified identity programs but they can get scammed too. If the property uses one of these sites, you can contact them to verify the owner has a good reputation. Just because a property is listed on a free classified ad doesn't mean they aren't real, but you should be careful.

4. Don't be fooled by beautiful photographs

Those beautiful photographs that make you fall in love with the property may have been copied off the internet. One trick is to contact the owner and ask if they have an additional photographs of the property that are not included in the listing. The real owner will have some and be happy to send them to you.

5. Be careful with how you pay

It's a good idea to book your rental with a credit card or through PayPal. This way if there are issues and problems you will have protection. Never be pressured into wiring money. Just never wire money. Requiring payment via MoneyGram, Western Union or gift cards is almost always a sign of a scam.

The trust economy is growing which means we are going to be interacting with total strangers online more and more. And that's great! By the way, the apartment at the top of this post is a place my husband and I rent out in Guanajuato, Mexico. We have met some wonderful people since we opened it up and had very few bad experiences.