Ari Lazarus at the Federal Trade Commission warned Monday that scammers are ready with fake vacation rental ads.
The scammers — now taking advantage of the summer vacation season — post rentals and take the money.
“But, when you show up for the vacation, you have no place to stay and your money is gone,” Lazarus said.
Some scammers copy real rental listings but replace the owner’s contact info with their own.
Others use the real owner’s name but relist the property on another site, with new booking and payment instructions.
Scammers sometimes hijack the real owner’s email account on reputable vacation rental websites.
“Other scammers don’t bother with real rentals — they make up listings for places that aren’t really for rent or don’t exist,” Lazarus said.
“To get people to act fast, they often ask for lower than average rent or promise great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out the truth.”
This week the FTC won a $5.2 million judgment against defendants who posted Craiglist ads for rental properties that “did not exist or that they had no right to offer for rent.”
When people responded to the ads, they were told to obtain credit scores from a company that automatically enrolled them in a credit monitoring service for $29.94 a month. Most of the victims didn’t know they’d been enrolled.
The FTC’s complaint is here (pdf).
Some tips from the FTC for avoiding a rental scam:
- Don’t wire money or pay with a prepaid or gift card for a vacation rental. Once the scammer collects the money, it is almost impossible to get it back.
- Don’t be rushed into a decision. If you receive an email pressuring you to make a decision on the spot for a rental, ignore it and move on.
- Look out for super cheap rates for premium vacation properties. Below-market rent can be a sign of a scam. Do some extra research to confirm the deal is legitimate before jumping in.
- Get a copy of the contract before you send any deposit money. Check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm the location of the property and other details on the contract.
Lazarus said the FTC wants to hear about any scams, even from people who haven’t lost money.
Victims should also alert the company they used to send the money — a bank, Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot, iTunes, or Amazon — and tell them the transaction was fraudulent.
“They may not be able to get your money back, but it is important to alert them of fraud,” Lazarus said.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.
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