Vacation rental booking sites and platforms offer travelers a wide choice of flexible accommodation in desirable locations worldwide. Unfortunately, while convenient, these platforms have also become another target for opportunistic online fraudsters. It is therefore crucial for website and app owners, vacationers, and legitimate hosts to stay alert to potential scams and to take steps to prevent fraud.
What are the main types of vacation rental scams?
In general, there are three main categories of vacation rental scams to which travelers should be alert.
1. Fake listings
One common vacation rental scam is the fake listing. The key to this fraud is that “good” scammers will make the listing look extremely appealing, with enticing pictures and an attractive price. Vacationers book what they think is a great deal on a prime rental, which they only find out is fake once their payment has been processed.
2. Hijacking legitimate listings
Another type of scam is where a fraudster intercepts or hijacks a genuine vacation rental listing. The idea is to get the person booking the accommodation to divert their payment to the scammer under the guise of completing a legitimate transaction. The key to this fraud is that the booker is expecting to pay the balance of their accommodation, so may be less likely to spot or even suspect a fraud.
3. Personal data fraud
A third type of scam involves using the pretense of a rental listing to harvest users’ personal data for fraudulent purposes. This is a more wide-ranging scam that goes beyond just getting you to part with your money for vacation accommodation. Legitimate booking sites and platforms should have protections in place to safeguard all users’ data.
What steps can travelers take to avoid scams?
For travelers who want to know how to prevent fraud in the vacation rental industry, one of the main things is to remain vigilant. This includes scrutinizing the listing details for anything that seems “off”, such as an unrealistically low price, a badly written listing, or reviews that seem fake. It is also important to conduct all communication with the host through the booking platform to protect your personal information.
Similarly, when it comes to making a payment, be wary of being taken away from the booking site or platform to a third-party site. The main booking sites offer a facility to pay through their platform, so if the host directs you off the site, that’s a red flag that something is amiss. There are legitimate reasons for off-site payments, but these should be highlighted by the booking site, such as paying local taxes.
While it might be tempting to rely on the booking site or platform carrying out thorough checks on their hosts and listings, mistakes can happen. When they do, it can be costly and frustrating for vacationers and for legitimate hosts.
Of course, given the reputational damage a well-publicized fraud can cause, rental platforms want to take steps to ensure the service they facilitate is professional, transparent and legitimate. However, users of these sites and platforms can also play their part in ensuring potential scammers are unsuccessful in their attempts to defraud travelers.