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Avoid Airbnb and Vrbo scams with these tips

FBI: More than 20K victims of fraud

By Karlee Van De Venter, Tri-City Herald
Published: May 25, 2024, 5:19am

It’s the start of travel season, and across the country people are booking hotels, rentals and vacation options.

But like any other industry, there are scammers waiting to take advantage of consumers. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Reports for 2022 and 2023, more than 20,000 people fell victim to real estate scams.

It’s important to protect yourself while traveling. Here are some red flags for online rental options to be aware of while booking, with tips from Forbes Advisor, the Federal Trade Commission, Navy Federal Credit Union and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Vacation rental red flags

You can avoid headaches later on by avoiding rentals with certain red flags while browsing your online options. You can catch some in the listing itself, and some while interacting with the host.

Here are things to look out for:

  • Rates too good to be true

If the rental rate doesn’t match the average range for the listing, it might not be legit. If you find a rental with a lot of amenities, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms in an ideal location, but for significantly less per night than other ideal options, it could be fake.

  • Low quality photos

If photos are grainy or peculiar, they may be copied from other listings or properties. If it seems suspicious, use Google to reverse image search the photos from the listing. If they show up elsewhere, not related to rental opportunities, it could be a fake listing.

You should also look closely at the details. AI photos have made their way into rental listings, and could also be used for vacation properties. Examine the furniture, the background of outdoor photos and inconsistencies in patterns to sniff out AI photos.

  • Suspicious reviews

Check the reviews. If they seem robotic or too repetitive, they may be spam reviews to boost the listing.

Vacation rental owner red flags

Sometimes, speaking with the host or property owner can reveal the scammy nature of a listing. Here are some red flags to look out for in conversation.

  • Payment on another platform

Mainstream vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have protected payment portals. It’s a huge red flag for a host to demand payment on another platform like Venmo. It’s much more difficult to get your payment back that way. Same with cryptocurrency, cash on the spot or gift cards.

  • Rushing

Property owners should never pressure you to make a decision or send money. If you’re getting a sense of urgency, or a sob story, it could be a scam.

  • Personal information

Hosts should not ask for personal information unrelated to the booking. Do not give out your bank account information, Social Security number or other information.

  • Last-minute changes

If you book a vacation rental, be skeptical if you get a last-minute change from the host. Make sure they cancel the original reservation. If you cancel it, you’ll likely be charged additional fees. Find an alternative through the rental platform — support services can help with last-minute changes.

  • Ask questions

If you’re skeptical about a listing, there are some questions you can ask to test their legitimacy. Ask them about the area, places to eat nearby the listing and the distance to specific amusement or recreation options. Check the accuracy of their answers to see how well they know the area. Ask for additional photos that aren’t in the listing, as scammers will eventually run out of photos that fit.

If you believe you’ve found a scam listing, you should report it to the local law enforcement, the website with the listing, the state attorney general and the FTC.