vacation rental ripoffVacation rentals are great for families who need more space than a hotel room provides. However, it’s easier to get ripped off with a vacation rental than a hotel. Here are 3 ways to avoid a vacation rental ripoff.

Purchase a vacation rental on a reputable site

Spring break is in the air. If you’re looking to get away from the cold winter months, a vacation rental is a great way for a family to save money.

Kids go stir crazy in a hotel room in a short amount of time. Renting an apartment or home is a great way to save money on accommodations, food, and save your own sanity.

There are tons of great vacation rental sites like Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), HomeAway, VacationRentals, and Airbnb. That’s why you should avoid Craigslist. You just don’t know what you’re getting into. There are many reputable people on Craigslist, but there are also a lot of scams.

That’s not to say you don’t have to worry about reputable sites. There are scams on sites like VRBO. However, there are more built-in protections.

Be aware of vacation rental ripoffs

While vacation rental sites protect the buyer and seller, you can’t rely on the advertised protections. VRBO offers a “Book with Confidence Guarantee.” While it protects against fraud, you won’t always be protected. You can still get ripped off and have little recourse.

It happened to vacationers from all over the country. They booked a mansion in Delray Beach, Florida. One traveler even sent a relative to the address to tour the property. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t too good to be true. He did his homework.

Even with all that research, the rental turned out to be a ripoff. The deposits went missing. Those who paid money had no idea there were disputes happening behind the scenes. A business dispute and an issue with the Homeowners Association.

More than 20 vacationers lost over $50,000. The hard part — very few got their money back.

Since HomeAway never got the money in the Delray case above, the site didn’t offer refunds. In a statement, HomeAway said,

“HomeAway does provide protections against instances of internet fraud and phishing, but they would not apply to a property manager allegedly absconding with the funds due to the property owner for a booking.”

However, if the travelers bought extra rental protection they may have gotten their money back. HomeAway offers a Carefree Rental Guarantee, Cancelation Protection, and Damage Protection. They are extras, though, and most travelers might skip these. That is unless you’ve been burned before.

save 30-60% on your next vacation

Don’t rely on reviews

Reviews are helpful, but they only give you a glimpse into satisfaction ratings from the past. You typically rent a vacation home months in advance. Circumstances change quickly in life. So you may have a totally different experience than someone two months ago.

That being said, you should still read reviews. They give you insight into the property owner, the condition of the facility, and home layout. Review the reviews. Don’t rely on them.

Even if reviews are positive, you still can encounter problems. Life happens, and the landlord may run into issues. Those problems may creep up just in time for your vacation. Your experience may be far different than reviews based on the circumstances for the time period when you rent.

In the Delray Beach case above, all the reviews were positive. Vacationers relied on that information and booked the mansion. By the time they showed up, they had problems.

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Be careful who you pay

With a lot of the ripoffs, you’ll be asked to pay a third party. Many legitimate vacation rentals are managed by third party companies. That’s fine, but research the company. Make sure the company has a strong reputation.

Google the address of the company and read reviews. You will be surprised how often a company uses a P.O. Box without the words P.O. Box in the address. UPS store P.O. Boxes use real street addresses so Google the address. Look at the image for the property address. If you see UPS, you know it’s a P.O. Box at a UPS Store.

Don’t put down a deposit with a check

With a vacation rental, you’re typically staying for a week or more. Therefore, your bill is usually thousands of dollars. If a deposit is required, do not pay it with a check.

Some companies request checks. I never would send a personal check or a cashier’s check. You have no recourse if your money is taken, and you don’t get what you paid for.

If a cash is checked, and the rental turns out to be fake, you have no options. The money is gone. You can file a police report, but rarely are these cases prosecuted.

As a purchaser, you have rights too. Protect them.

At the very least, use Paypal to transfer money. Preferably, use the Paypal credit card feature.

A credit card, not a debit card, offers you the most protection.