Vacation rental scams are back, just in time for spring break

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Spring break is just around the corner and an old scam is back with new hazards — whether you’re looking for a vacation rental or you own a home that’s currently up for sale in a vacation rental market.

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Spring break warning: Watch out for bogus vacation rentals

We’re all accustomed to finding deals on the web. But sometimes, what seems like a deal on a vacation rental can actually be a scam in waiting. reports a woman named Stephanie Hollander, who had her home up for sale, got a big surprise when she was contacted by someone saying they’d just rented her home through!

Wait a minute, what’s going on here?

Sadly, it’s the return of a scam where criminals — often located outside the United States — scrape data (including street address and interior/exterior photos) of properties that are listed for sale in multiple listing service databases or elsewhere on the web.

Then the crooks take that info and re-list the properties as rentals at below-market rates to attract potential victims — all while presenting themselves as the landlord or owner!

In Stephanie’s case, she discovered her “for sale by owner” home was being listed as a vacation rental for $49 a night.

Stephanie alerted HomeAway and they pulled the listing down — but not before her home was “rented” three times by three different unsuspecting vacationers!

Meanwhile, the person who contacted Stephanie saying they’d rented her home lost the cash down payment they made to the criminals to secure the bogus rental. That’s money that person put out in good faith toward what appeared to be a legitimate rental.


So the threat here is twofold. For owners, their homes can be listed without their knowledge as rentals…and then what happens when an angry would-be renter shows up on their doorstep?

And for the potential renters, they stand to lose money and lose out on a place to stay.

If you are a renter looking for a vacation property and someone purports to be the owner, don’t just take their word for it. Search the county’s property records to see who the real owner on record is. If it doesn’t match up, you know to be extra careful and suspicious.

Here are some additional warning signs renters should be on the lookout for:

  • Below market prices that offer discounts of up to 50% off the going rate for similar properties in the area are a red flag
  • Listings that have no feedback from previous renters should raise your suspicions
  • Being asked to send payment via a money order, Money Gram or Western Union is always the tell-tale sign of a scam. Remember, the only safe way to pay for travel booking is by credit card. That way you can dispute the charge if the listing later turns out to be bogus
  • Be wary of “owners” who claims to be out of the United States on business

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