Is that rental house real? How to spot a scam when booking a vacation.

By Harriet Edlesson

When traveling, instead of booking a hotel, retirees sometimes turn to short-term vacation rental sites and online platforms. In the process, they may be faced with fraud in the form of fake listings and attempts to push unsuspecting consumers off the site as a way to rip them off.

“It can happen that you book a vacation rental and find out that the entire listing is a fraud,” said Michelle Couch-Friedman, founder of Consumer Rescue, an advocacy and educational organization.

The photos may look exceptional, the price is relatively high but seems fair for the location, but how do you know what the rental will be like when you arrive and during your stay?

Will the necessary repairs have been made before your arrival? Will the place be spotless? If something goes wrong during your stay, will you be able to contact the booking platform or the host while you’re there? Since many vacation homes require payment in full prior to arrival, how can you ensure that what you see online will be what you get upon arrival?

The exact address of the rental is usually not provided until after the reservation is made, so Robert, a tech-savvy person in his late 60s, searches vacation rental booking platforms using Google Maps to get the most information. information about the location of a short-term rental. as possible.

Even if he only has the general location of a property he’s found on Vrbo, say the intersection of two streets, but not the exact address until you book a rental, Robert is looking for an aerial view of the area as well as a street. view to see if he can find a property that matches the one he has seen on the booking platform.

You may be able to see the front of the house, the street number and if it has the private pool mentioned on the site. It is a method that helps you determine that the property exists, possibly its precise location, and whether it is close to a supermarket, grocery store, and restaurants.

A San Antonio couple in their 70s have booked vacation rentals, usually in Florida, at least once a year for the past few years. They like to gather their older children and grandchildren in the same space so they can easily eat together in the rental house. They have discovered that online reservations are a good way to find vacation rental homes.

Read:In ‘silent commutes,’ employees sneak off to vacation spots to work remotely. Is that so bad?

Protect yourself and your trip. Here’s how to spot red flags that could indicate a fake listing or other fraud attempt.

The first way to protect yourself is to understand the short-term rental market and how it differs from planning a trip with hotel stays. “It’s a different approach than booking a hotel,” said Madeline List, a senior research analyst at Phocuswright, a travel market research firm. Instead of booking a brand they know with a credit card or loyalty points, “it’s more like when you book a boutique hotel,” she said. “We see a lot of brand loyalty in that age group, among retirees. They tend to be loyal to a few big players.”

About 17% of people age 55 and older have used a short-term rental in the past few years, according to Phocuswright.

“Rather than a few big players and loyalty programs,” List said, the short-term rental market is “incredibly fragmented in terms of who operates them.”

That’s why it’s important to spend extra time and effort when booking a short-term vacation rental.

To protect yourself while browsing and before you book, choose carefully where you look for short-term vacation rentals. Once you start looking, remember that your own due diligence can help you avoid a scam. Also, adjust your expectations. A short-term rental can create a dream vacation, but it’s a different experience than staying in a hotel.

Read: Five Spring Break Destinations for Adults

Also, vacation rental platforms that list properties for rent, such as and, are not property management companies, Couch-Friedman said. “They will not be at your beck and call. They do not examine these properties. They are listing services.”

Booking with listing platforms can help you find a vacation rental that meets your needs and expectations. However, those anticipating a hotel experience may be disappointed. Some travelers, including retirees, may be “expecting a level of service that isn’t available through Vrbo and Airbnb (ABNB),” Couch-Friedman said. For example, if you expect housekeeping every day, a short-term vacation rental may not be for you.

Read:How do health care and Medicare work when you retire abroad?

To avoid scams as much as possible, and to ensure you’ll have a place that looks a lot like the one you saw pictured on a booking site, here are some tips from insiders and those who have successfully booked vacation rentals online:

Book only on trusted sites

Even those sites can end up with a fake listing, but it’s less likely. If you are unable to communicate with a host through the platform or the host asks you to move from the site to do business or pay, stop communication immediately.

Familiarize yourself with the site or platform terms

Please note that listing sites or platforms do not normally inspect properties. Vrbo verifies user accounts and performs certain background investigations on hosts, according to an Expedia spokesperson. Vrbo is a brand of Expedia Group (EXPE). “This includes verifying the address from the property listings, the owner’s name and the billing address,” he said.

Before booking, please contact the host with any questions via the messaging feature on the platform.

If you want to know more about the property’s location before you book, for example, send the host a message to ask what attractions and landmarks are nearby. You can then search for those places to see if it’s an area you’d like to stay in.

Ask how recent the photos are. Another tip: Paste the photos into Google Images to see if they are stock photos or images from another listing, and not an authentic short-term rental listing.

Read carefully all the details about the rental

If you want a piece of property that is private rather than a room in someone’s house, make sure that is what the description says. Some sites, like Airbnb, allow hosts to rent out part of their home.

Read the reviews

Vacation rental platforms are based on the experiences of past guests, and honest hosts aim to get good verified reviews so that guests continue to book their rental. “Pay particular attention to whether the host or property manager is responsive to these reviews, as well as whether they’ve addressed any issues with the home identified in the reviews,” said TJ Clark, chief business officer for Vacasa, a property management company. vacation rental. company based in Portland, Oregon.

Check the cancellation policy for the particular listing

It may vary from one ad to another, and may depend on how far in advance you book. If you want to be able to get a full refund, please check the last date you must cancel to receive it.

Make payments on the platform with credit card

Avoid using instant payment methods like Zelle, wire transfer, or gift cards.

“Scammers like Zelle because it’s instant,” Couch-Friedman said. “They’ll take anything as long as it’s not a credit card.”

Also, scammers manage to gain access to legitimate booking platforms, so be careful. If a legitimate business sends you an email asking you to pay a security deposit with Zelle, that’s a sign of a scam, he said. A legitimate site will never ask you to pay outside of the site or app with Zelle, Venmo, or any other instant payment method.

By only paying through the platform, you have some degree of protection in case a problem arises. According to the Expedia Group spokesperson, “Guests who book and pay through Vrbo are automatically covered by our Book with Confidence guarantee, which offers comprehensive payment protection, 24-hour customer service, and emergency booking assistance if necessary.” necessary”. In addition, the Fair Credit Billing Act gives consumers 60 days to dispute disputed charges of more than $50. These include goods and transactions not delivered or unacceptable by unauthorized users.

Document any repair issues and notify the host or booking site immediately

Use your phone to take photos and videos that show the time you took them, in case you need evidence that you found the space in an unacceptable condition upon arrival.

Consider sites that rely on property managers

“As representatives of the property owner, property managers have a vested interest in providing the best possible experience for their guests, which includes ensuring that listing images match the in-home experience,” said Clark of Vacasa.

Buy travel insurance

There are many types of travel insurance, so find one that meets your specific needs. For example, if you’re worried you won’t be able to travel due to illness, buy travel insurance that includes “cancel for any reason.” Ask if the policy you are considering will protect you if the rent you paid turns out to be a scam.

-Harriet Edlesson

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently of Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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03-25-23 1341ET

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