Picture this – you’re in the market for rental and a friend tells you to check out the website, craigslist.org. You find a number of available properties in your area. You click the pictures, read the descriptions and find the one for an amazing price. You make contact with the owner – awesome! They tell you the home is available and to just wire the deposit money through Western Union. You do it in hopes to land that perfect home. A day goes by, two days, three days – no contact from the owner and you’re now wondering, where did your money go? This is a true story a client told me just the other day. They were scammed out of $3500. Did the hair raise on the back of your neck?
The saddest part is, they’re not alone. We hear about all the ways that people’s privacy gets invaded or stolen on the Internet. But this is just the opposite. Someone creates a persona as a landlord or agent with a property to rent and they turn out not to be the owner at all. Often these scammer sift the information and photos from homes that are for sale. Thousands of people are scammed every year and the numbers have sky-rocketed since 2013. It’s BIG business for scammers and the majority of them aren’t even located in the United States. These crafty scammers are sitting at their computers posting bogus ads from India, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and other countries with little consumer protection laws. And this my friends makes it nearly impossible to locate and prosecute these criminals.
Don’t go sour, just don’t get fooled
There’s nothing wrong with using the internet to search for homes – whether to buy, rent, or find that perfect vacation home for your next get-away. You can find great deals directly from legitimate owners and authorized agents through Craigslist, VRBO, Homeaway, AirBNB and other websites. I love these sites for this purpose and use them regularly myself.
Here are a few tips to make sure you’re dealing directly with the owner or an authorized agent.
- Google the actual address of the place. Verify that the same e-mail address and phone number is being used across the web whenever you find the property listed.
- Make contact with the owner or agent by telephone – you can Google the number to find out the carrier (ATT, Verizon, etc) and it’s locale.
- Ask where they are located.
- If it’s a rental, be sure it’s not listed for sale on Realtor.com.
- Meet the owner in person at the property to obtain a rental application and show you inside – if they can’t meet in person, move on.
- Be sure any vacation rental you consider has a lot of reviews from satisfied customers with a transparent owner.
- Pay by credit card to limit your risk. You can always dispute the charge if the rental turns out to be a scam.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever send money by Western Union to secure a rental.
When it comes to general booking advice for vacation rentals, I always look for places that are built in the last five years (or newly renovated) that have a lot of pictures posted online with super-happy customer reviews. These factors help ensure that the rental will be in tip-top shape.
Most people who list properties for rent are legitimate. So don’t go sour on the idea of using the internet to find great rentals.
Finally, remember the # 1 Craigslist rule and you’ll avoid all problems. As Craigslist says online, “Deal locally with folks you can meet in person. Follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on Craigslist.”