There's a fast-growing Craigslist vacation rental scam that you need to know about.
It's now become commonplace when you're looking for a deal to rent a condo or a home directly from the homeowner rather than a traditional hotel. I love sites like AirBNB.com VRBO.com for this purpose.
Well, the scam here involves crooks posting bogus listings on Craigslist. These listings may have tons of pictures and a lengthy description of a real house. But the poster doesn't own the property!
Unsuspecting vacationers are paying in advance, usually by check or Western Union wire. The supposed landlord takes the money, of course. Then they show up -- perhaps after traveling across the country -- and find that they can't stay there.
That's just what happened to a couple named Alan Stout and Angela Miceli who came to Seattle as out-of-towners to be married, according to a local TV station. Angela's dad rented a house from Craiglist for the bridal party...only for his daughter to arrive in town and discover people were living it.
We talk about all the ways that people's privacy gets invaded on the Internet. But this is just the opposite. Someone creates a persona as a landlord with a property to rent and they turn out not to be the owner of what they claim.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself in this arena:
- Google the actual address of the place you're planning to stay. Verify that the same e-mail address is being used across the web whenever you find the property listed.
- Be sure any rental you consider has a lot of reviews from satisfied customers.
- Pay by credit card to limit your risk. You can always dispute the charge if the rental turns out to be a scam.
When it comes to general booking advice about VRBO.com, I always look for places that are built in last five years (or renovated in the last four) that have a lot of pictures posted online. Both factors help ensure that the rental will be in tip-top shape.
Most people who list properties for rent are legitimate. So don't go sour on the idea of renting from an owner instead of from a hotel!
Finally, remember the # 1 Craigslist rule and you'll avoid all problems. As Craigslist says online, "Deal locally with folks you can meet in person. Follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on Craigslist."