ACFE Insights Blog

Too Good to be True? 4 Ways to Avoid Vacation Rental Scams

Booking a vacation rental online comes with the convenience of browsing listings from the comfort of home. But it also opens the door to scammers trying to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers.

By Abbie Staiger September 2023 Duration: 3-minute read
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Booking a vacation rental online comes with the convenience of browsing listings from the comfort of home. But it also opens the door to scammers trying to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. Vacation rental fraud often involves fake property listings, compromised accounts, bait-and-switch tactics, double bookings and other deceptive practices targeting short-term rental guests. Being aware of the common types of vacation rental scams and red flags can help you identify fraudulent behavior and even avoid becoming the victim.

Common Types of Vacation Rental Scams

Fake listings are among the most common vacation rental scams. Fraudsters create convincing listings for properties that either do not exist or are not actually available for rent. When an unsuspecting guest tries to book, the “host” collects payment and often ceases communication shortly after that.

Account takeover scams involve fraudsters hacking into real rental accounts on sites like Airbnb or VRBO. They then change the listing details and rent out the property as if they are the real owner. By the time the actual owner finds out, the guest has already sent payment to the scammer.

Bait-and-switch scams use fake photos of a luxury property to lure guests in. But when the guest arrives, the property is completely different, usually run down and nothing like what was advertised.

Double booking scams happen when a host books the same rental property to multiple guests for overlapping dates. The guest who arrives last gets left scrambling when the home is already occupied.

Red Flags of Vacation Rental Fraud

Listings with limited photos, details and reviews, or that seem “too good to be true” should raise red flags. Also, be suspicious of prices drastically lower than comparable rentals in the same area. Fraudsters often target the most vulnerable in their schemes. By offering well-below-average prices on fake rentals, people who do not have much money to spend in the first place become targets for this kind of tactic.

A host who pushes you to book or pay outside of the rental platform is another huge red flag. Legitimate hosts will have you book and pay through the platform, which offers protection. Contact info that differs between the listing and booking is also suspicious and should be verified through the platform primarily.

Avoiding vacation rental fraud starts by understanding red flags of potentially fraudulent behavior. Anyone booking vacation rentals should always:

  • Verify the host through the rental platform.
  • Search the listing address to confirm it is a rental property, not someone’s residence.
  • Always book and pay through the platform, not directly with a host. Use payment methods with fraud protections that are built in.
  • Consider rental guarantee insurance that can reimburse you if fraud does occur. Before the trip, confirm all the details with the host again. This helps uncover any bait-and-switch schemes ahead of time.

What to Do if You Are a Victim

If you are the victim of a vacation rental scam, immediately contact the rental platform if you booked through one and dispute the charges with your bank or credit card company. You can also contact local law enforcement and file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if the scam took place in the U.S. Victims might also consider reporting identity theft if any personal information was compromised. Once personal situations are addressed, it’s helpful to leave online reviews about the fraud to warn others of similar schemes on that particular property or even in the area.

Being vigilant can help travelers avoid falling prey to vacation rental scams. Do your due diligence on listings, hosts and payments to ensure your next vacation rental experience is smooth sailing.