For the most part, renting out your vacation home is a safe process. Once you’ve got your vacation rental website in order, you can enjoy seeing the bookings rolling in.
Though, unfortunately, with the rise in demand for rentals, some prospective guests aren’t all they seem. There are a growing number of common vacation rental scams that hoax guests will use to catch owners off guard and take advantage of them.
In fact, according to Forter’s Fifth Annual Fraud Index report, travel and OTA fraud rates increased by 37% in 2018. Given that travel is a year-round industry, fraudsters can blend in with regular customer traffic and are harder to identify until it’s too late.
How fraud and vacation rental scams happen
Online booking sites are a prime target for scammers for a number of reasons. Not only are travel reservations usually high-ticket items (Sift Science found the average price of a fraudulent booking ranges from $238-$588), but they are also intangible – meaning there is no physical item to send or collect.
In addition to this, online bookings happen fast – instantly, even. As reservations can time out in just a few hours, it can be difficult to detect and block scam guests at the point of purchase.
Vacation rental scams: warning signs to look out for
To keep yourself and your business safe online, it’s important to prepare for any potential risks to avoid becoming vulnerable to scams. Read on to find out our top 10 warning signs that your guest is trying to defraud you.
1. Lack of basic language skills
While it’s not true in all cases, language use can sometimes be a big red flag for some owners. If the person inquiring shows extremely little understanding of basic language skills like grammar, spelling and punctuation, or are very repetitive in what they’ve written, ask yourself twice before accepting: they could be trying to scam you.
2. They’re using a dodgy email address
Where you are being contacted from can also be an indicator of fraud. Have you heard of the email provider they’re using? Do the guest’s name and email correspond to one another? If there are any discrepancies here, this guest could also be a fake.
3. They provide you with too much information
If an inquirer has written much more than you expected for an initial email, such as unnecessary information like their occupation or profession (be especially cautious if they purposely mention they’re a captain, religious figure, officer in the forces), or a long-winded story they’ve spun about why they’re visiting your city, keep them at arm’s length and don’t believe everything you read.
4. The trip is a “surprise” for someone else
Yes, some people do genuinely surprise their loved ones with a vacation, but others may use this as an excuse to pull one over on hosts. Surprise trips can, unfortunately, fall through at any time. So, when you’re accepting booking requests, make sure you have the names and contact details for the entire booking party. It might also be a good idea to take a security deposit or impose a strict cancelation policy to avoid scammers targeting you.
5. They don’t want to use your preferred payment method
You have a booking system on your site for a reason – to take online bookings and accept secure credit card payments. Therefore if a potential guest ever offers to pay outside of your website, e.g. by certified check, cashier’s check, bank wire transfer or even in cash upon arrival, alarm bells should ring as these payments won’t be secure or guaranteed.
Furthermore, if guests ask to pay more than your advertised rate, this should be another warning sign. Overpay vacation rental scams have been happening recently, with new hoax guests even using stolen credit cards for these tricks.
In this type of con, guests will send more money than the booking amount requires, but before you or your bank can realize this, you’ll have received messages from the guest asking for a refund on the overpayment. Watch out, because many guests will use the “business traveler” excuse, saying that travel departments have made a mistake, when in reality, the booker is using stolen information to make the payment.
6. Their inquiry gets your property information wrong
If you receive an inquiry or booking request from someone who refers to your countryside ranch as a “penthouse apartment”, this should raise a few red flags, too. More likely than not, this is a blanket message that they would’ve sent to multiple vacation rental owners, and they’re waiting for just one of them to fall victim to their scam.
7. They don’t know when they’re traveling
It’s possible that guests genuinely are flexible with their travel dates, and they simply have their heart set on your rental for their vacation. However, if you have an inquiring guest ask about very specific dates, then retract their question and tell you their dates are flexible, they might be trying to scam you.
8. They ask you to send keys in the post
Before the industry exploded, it was common practice to send your guests maps, entry instructions and even keys via snail mail. Nowadays, however, it’s a different story. Many owners rely on automated check-in methods like lockboxes, electronic smart locks or even concierge services to handle guest changeover, so there shouldn’t be any need to send physical keys in the post. If your vacation rental keys fall into the wrong hands, you could be looking at footing an expensive locksmith bill, not to mention the potential risks to the contents of your property.
9. Last minute or same-day bookings
Studies show that same-day bookings are 4.3 times more likely to be fraudulent, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. Of course, sometimes you have to give guests the benefit of the doubt and believe their story. Their hotel is overbooked? Mistakes are sometimes made, and it is a perfectly plausible excuse. But if the story doesn’t quite add up, use methods for screening guests and don’t be afraid to ask for verification.
10. It just doesn’t feel right
We all know the saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And this couldn’t be more appropriate for the world of vacation rentals. A guest offering to pay extra for a low-season week because they love your place? Scam! A single traveler renting your five-bedroom house for themselves? Scam! Anything that makes you second-guess your guest’s integrity? Probably a scam! Trust your instinct, and don’t accept any bookings that make you doubt the guest’s intentions.
We hope none of you have fallen for a guest’s vacation rental scam in the past – you certainly won’t now that you know what to watch out for!