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How to check out a vacation rental

Renting a home at your destination often makes sense, but scammers can turn your dreamed-of vacation into a big disappointment. Here's what to look for -- along with 4 potential signs of trouble.

By Mitch Lipka May 21, 2013 10:27AM
Family at the beach © Fuse, Fuse, Getty ImagesFor a lot of families, renting a vacation home makes more sense than booking multiple rooms at a hotel. But unlike booking a hotel room, where the brands are known and reviews abound, renting a vacation home can leave a consumer exposed.

You can get taken in a variety of ways, and they all involve making you believe you're getting something you're not. And with summer vacations fast approaching, scammers are just waiting for you to pounce on their "deals."

In the recent case of a group from Texas that paid $6,200 to rent a home in Hawaii, the house was there, but it was unusable. When they showed up, they found the pool was filled with green sludge. The toilets were smashed. Not what you'd expect for more than $6,000.

Others, often responding to online classifieds, pay money only to find there's no rental waiting for them when they arrive.

But the experience of renting a vacation home need not be a nightmare.

Rather than relying on online classified ads, consider going through a real estate office in the area where you would like to rent. In popular vacation areas there are typically one or more agencies that represent local property owners who want to rent their homes. Using an agency provides a degree of protection -- you won't be renting a place with a phony address. It also gives you a place to turn to try to resolve any issues.

You could also consider using one of the established online vacation rental sites, such as, and Similarly, there's some added protection by being able to see reviews from previous renters and following the sites' guidelines for doing a safe rental -- and their own warranties against scams.

Here are some warning signs typical of a vacation rental scam:
  • The only exchanges you have with the owner are via email, and there's no way to get in touch by phone.
  • Payment is requested to be made through a wire transfer service such as MoneyGram or Western Union (it's the same as paying with cash).
  • The deal seems too good for the area you're looking it (i.e. the house is renting for $700 a week when similar ones are going for twice that).
  • The emails are in broken English or seem off in some way.
It is common in these scams for the phony landlord to post what seem to be photos of the property and even a map with the address. The photos, however, are usually lifted from a legitimate property listing and are not at the address shown the map.

If you're considering a rental right now, it's worth taking the quiz on to see if you could be getting scammed.

More from Smart Spending:

May 21, 2013 1:33PM

Insist on getting a street address of the property. Check out the address on Google Earth - see if it looks similar to the photos you've been given of the house.


Maybe say: "My uncle lives in [nearby neighborhood]. He'll meet with you to tour the house and see what it's like. Is Thursday convenient?" See how they react.



May 25, 2013 11:17AM
Ha! I love this quiz by RentVine. The article has great references to different scam triggers. it makes you think about possible scenario and run a reality check for your own situation. These 3 simple steps below are great preventative measures against scammers:

1) If the deal is too good to be true, run away
2) If wire transfer payment is the only option, insist on a credit card payment
3) Use vacation rental websites that hold guests' payments in escrow until the check-in date

Now put yourself in scammer's shoes and try to deal with a customer that do not compromise on either of those 3 steps. Would you succeed?

At we have a 100% scam prevention rate. It's as simple as promoting those 3 checks and scammers will run away from you!
May 23, 2013 11:48AM
Great article about Vacation Scams. 

Another way to verify the authenticity of an ad is through using a third-party verification company like WeGoLook (

The company will send out a local agent in that area for $59 to take photos and provide a visual report of the home. This could save a lot of headaches in the future and give you peace of mind as you prepare for your vacation! 
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