Beach houses summer holiday palms via Unsplash.

Watch What You Book

Since the shut down of the pandemic back in March of 2020, people have been locked away in their homes, unable to visit family, friends, co-workers, vacation, and reschedule events. People are itching to get out and see society again.

With vaccines being distributed and Americans getting vaccinated, President Joe Biden has announced those who are fully vaccinated would not need to wear their masks out in public. The CDC has also announced states can drop the masks mandate. Even those who are not fully vaccinated would not need to wear a mask.

With the mask rules being lifted, Americans can now vacation, visit family, friends, return to work, but most importantly get out of the house. Vacationers are looking in all areas of the country to book vacation spots, but with the supply low and everywhere is sold out, it’s hard to book rental properties. This is a breeding ground for scammers.

Scammers are on the rise. According to Apartment List, an estimated 43.1 percent of renters have encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent, and 5.2 million U.S. renters have lost money from rental fraud.

Becky Worley from Good Morning America reported scammers are posting fake listings on social media. Stealing thousands of dollars and ruining vacations for many families. Scammers are posing as the property owner.

“This is the worse year I’ve ever seen with online scams,” said Charissa Murray, Marketing Director of tybeeisland.com and manages Tybee Island Facebook page.

Tybee Island, GA is a vacationer’s paradise. It is pleasant and the views are gorgeous, however, it has caused some problems. Scammers are listings properties that are not meant for booking.

Unsuspecting vacationers are shown pictures taken from other websites offering low price rentals and then are sent a private message for the booker to send over a deposit.

“They’re waiting for people to post their dates and when they want to stay because the island is completely booked, the scammers are loving this. They’re offering their property, which is not their property, said Murray.

One vacationer put down a deposit for a rental for the 4th of July weekend, but it wasn’t what she was expecting in the end.

“I lost out on $200, but it could’ve been more,” said the vacationer.

According to Apartment List, renters who have lost money in rental scams, 1 in 3 have lost over $1,000, likely after paying a security deposit or rent on a fraudulent property.

With the help of Murray, the vacationer realized the booking was fake. Vacation areas across the country are warning vacationers about rental property fraud.

Worley found an Oceanfront Property listing on Craig’s list in Maui for $400/night. The listing was gorgeous, but the listing used the same pictures as the VRBO listing, which is priced at $4,550. The actual rental property is priced higher than the fake property.

Worley then reached out to the person of contact on the listing, but the response she received was unwanting. The contact person sent her a contract, a link for a deposit of more than $1,700, and an address to a property that wasn’t listed as the booking property.

Worley and her producer visited the property. She video called the real owner of the property, who she found in the county records. She asked the owner, does he rent this house?

“No I have never rented since I brought it,” said the real owner.

He has never heard of the person who sent Worley the contract and the link for a deposit. Vacationers need to be aware of the warning signs and red flags. Murray says the biggest red flag is when the person of contact is offering a 50% discount.

“If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is,” said Murray.

To avoid these rental scams, Worley suggests vacationers should rent from well know sites such as Airbnb or VRBO. If the vacationer is in direct contact with the owner; they need to make sure the owner is the person who they say they are. Also, it is important to check the county records, which list the owner of the property.

“Finally if you have any skepticism pick up the phone and call. Many of these scammers only want to e-mail and that’s a red flag,” said Worley.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), vacationers should watch for; being asked to wire money, the contact person wants a security deposit or first month’s rent before you have met or signed a lease, and when you try to get in contact with them they say they are out of the country.

If or when you have experienced a rental scam, you should contact and report it to your local law enforcement agency and to FTC here: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/. Also, contact the website where the fraud took place.

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