Chapter 8

How to Spot Scams on HomeAway

Last updated: March 2024

HomeAway is now Vrbo. View our Ultimate Vrbo Host Guide to get the most updated information.

When using a website like HomeAway or Vrbo, you run the risk of being vulnerable to scams. And it’s not just renters who need to be careful. Sometimes hosts can be defrauded by potential guests, too.

HomeAway Scams: Owners

Let’s take a look at the most common red flags that will help you identify a HomeAway scam inquiry before falling victim.

1. Language

If the inquirer demonstrates a poor grasp of basic language – spelling, punctuation, and grammar – they could be a scammer.

2. Email

Is the email coming from an email provider you’ve never heard of? Does the email address correspond with the name in your inbox? If the two don’t match, it could be a fake.

3. Too much information

Have they written above and beyond what you’d expect an inquirer to write? Are they giving you a life story? This is a big red flag when it comes to scams. So don’t believe everything you read.

4. Occupation

Be wary of any potential guests who make a point of declaring their profession for one reason or another, especially if they say they are a religious figure, sea captain, doctor or member of the armed forces.

5. Surprises

If the traveler mentions they are arranging a surprise trip for someone else, let this be an alarm bell. Surprise trips can fall through at any time.

6. Payments

If they offer to pay outside of HomeAway, e.g. by certified check, cashier’s check, or by wire transfer, these payments are not secure and won’t be guaranteed under the HomeAway payment system.

Additionally, if they offer to pay more than your stated rate, this is another warning sign. A classic overpay scam involves guests sending more money than stated via check or money order, and likely enough, it turns out to be stolen. Before you realize this, they send you messages asking for the overpayment to be returned to them (many will use the excuse of travel departments making a mistake).

Recently, this scam has come into play using credit cards, too. The scammer reserves a property and (over)pays by card. They’ll ask for the extra amount back via bank transfer, making up an excuse why it can’t go back on the card. Only once funds have been sent will it come to light that scammers had been using stolen credit card details.

Finally, if a renter provides you with unsolicited payment information in their initial inquiry, you should steer well clear of this potential scam traveler.

7. Missing profile information

When it comes to inquiries, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut with this one. If the traveler doesn’t have to send any inquiry questions or have any phone number listed on their profile, have your suspicions.

8. Incorrect property details

Receiving an inquiry from someone who refers to your penthouse apartment as a “cute cottage” should raise a few red flags, too. This could likely be a blanket message they’ve sent to multiple owners, waiting for one unsuspecting host to fall victim to this scam.

9. Date inconsistencies

If you have a potential guest inquire about specific dates, then tell you their dates to rent your property are flexible, this could also be a scam.

10. General perception

A lot of scams could be avoided if hosts truly go with their instinct. If it sounds too good to be true (paying you extra for a low-season week), it probably is!

HomeAway Scams: Hosts

Travelers, here you can find some of the key warning signs that will help you determine whether a HomeAway (or VRBO) listing is the real deal or a scam.

1. Too-good-to-be-true photos

The nature of vacation rentals and the internet means more travelers than ever are making online bookings. So if all of the photos of the property look polished within an inch of their lives, it might be a cause for concern. While some vacation rentals are, of course, super luxury and with all of the latest mod cons, real and trustworthy hosts will always have additional photos of their place, so don’t be afraid to treat them with caution in the first stage. Ask for extra pictures, or go a step further and see if you can FaceTime or Skype with the owner for a live, virtual tour. You should at least use Google Earth and Google Street View to check that the property actually exists.

2. Peculiar prices

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—if prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. Do some research to get a real feel for what a reasonable price is in the area you’re looking at. If you fall for the cheapest listing in the area trick, you might be falling right into a scammer’s hands.

3. Payment requests

A bona fide owner listing their rental on HomeAway or VRBO will not ask you to make your payment outside of the site. So be alert if someone asks you to pay using MoneyGram or Western Union – these are the preferred methods used by criminal scammers. Making a payment with cards like Visa, MasterCard or American Express on the HomeAway portal will protect you against online fraud and usually help you get the payment back in the instance of being scammed.

4. Reviews

Reading HomeAway reviews from previous guests can really help you get a feel for a rental and its host. It’s an invaluable resource at your fingertips for checking the validity of a rental. Sure, if they don’t have any, it could be that the host is legitimately starting out. But if they have a few that all say more or less the same thing, think to yourself, is this a HomeAway Scam?

5. Trust yourself

Your instinct is your best tool for sniffing out a fishy deal before you get scammed. If you’re new to vacation renting with sites like HomeAway, apply some skepticism to the process and question just about everything you can.