However, there has been an increase in vacation housing rental scams, so you need to be careful. Skiers are arriving at the property they thought they had rented only to discover that it's not available for rent or may not even be real. The "property manager" may actually be a scammer who preys on unsuspecting vacationers.
If it happens to you, it obviously puts a huge damper on your vacation. You've given a deposit or even the full rental amount, which is required in many resort areas. You probably won't be able to get back your money if you wired it, and you have nowhere to stay. If you're a victim of a condo or vacation home rental fraud scheme, you're in trouble.
Unfortunately, the local police department in the ski town you're visiting probably won't be able to help you get a refund because the money is typically wired or transferred out-of-state. You'll need to report it to agencies at home or where the money was sent. However, the local chamber of commerce may be able to help you secure new lodging on short notice.
Types of Vacation Rental Scams
Scammers take advantage of vacationers in a variety of ways. The property you are renting may not even exist, or it could be a real vacation rental that has been hijacked by a scammer. The scammer copies photos and a description from a real listing and then relists it with his or her contact information. The most prevalent scams include:
- Fake Condo or House: Rental Property does not exist (fake photos and address).
- Real Condo or House / Fake Listing: The scammer copies a listing from a legitimate rental and posts it online using the photos and description from the real listing, but changes the price and the contact information.
In both cases, the scammer will request payment of the security deposit and the rent (which can be required up to 30 days in advance during peak season) in advance. You will be asked to pay via a wire transfer, money order, Cashier's Check, or other money transfer service. With all these payment methods, it will be as though you paid cash, and it will most likely be impossible to recoup the money you have sent.
Booking Safe Vacation Rentals
How can you book a vacation rental where you don't have to worry about whether you are going to get scammed? Before you make a reservation, it's important to carefully check out the property you are planning to rent and whom you are renting it from. Avoiding a scam upfront will ensure that you are spending your time on the slopes, not trying to find accommodations on short notice.
Scams are more prevalent on vacation rental by owner sites and Craigslist, when you are dealing with individuals rather than an organization. If you book your lodging through the ski resort central reservations, a reputable property management company, or the local chamber of commerce you can be assured that your booking is legitimate.
For example, the Park City, Utah Chamber of Commerce has a directory of lodging providers and you can book directly through the chamber's website. Vail provides one-stop shopping for hotels, vacation rentals, and more local lodging options. Most major ski resorts offer similar services to skiers planning a vacation trip.
How to Avoid Scams
How can you avoid scams? It's important to careful research the lodging and the person you are renting it from. Here are some tips for avoiding vacation rental scams.
Book Direct. Your best bet is to book through a property management company, the ski resort or lodging providers recommended by the resort, or the chamber of commerce.
Check the Price. Is the rental price similar to equivalent listings? If the price is a real bargain, it may be too good to be true. For example, there were scams reported in Park City, Utah during the Sundance Film Festival when vacation housing prices are at a premium. The Park Record reported scams where the price was well below the going rate for housing.
Check the Photos. Check out the photos included in the listing. If you're seeing a photo of a condo with the beach in the background, it's not a condo at a ski resort. Are you seeing the same photos in a variety of listings? That's another sign that the listing may not be legitimate.
Check the Listing. Is the same property listed on many different websites at different prices? That's a sign it could be a scam. The easiest way to check is to take part of the description and search for it on Google. If you see the same property listed with different prices and different contact people, be careful.
Before You Book. Before you submit payment to an individual owner or property manager, call the telephone number in the listing and have a conversation. Ask them for references and contact the references to be sure they were satisfied with their stay. Ask about the terms and be sure you can pay by credit card.
Check Out Who's Renting the Property. If you do book through an individual call them and check them out online. Google them to see what information you can find, check them out on social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and search for the name they have given plus the terms "scam" or "fraud" to see if you can find any reports of scams.
Don't Send Money. The best way to pay is by credit card because you can dispute fraudulent charges. Don't pay by money transfer systems like Western Union or MoneyGram or wire money to someone's bank account. If you book through a vacation rental website, book through the site's reservation system. For example, payments made through HomeAway Reservation Manager system are guaranteed up to $10,000 against internet fraud.