Online vacation rental services have boomed in popularity in recent years.  Unfortunately, when you end up renting a property through a third party, sometimes you can encounter unexpected surprises that can have a big, negative impact on your vacation.  Our partners at WBZ Boston and their I-Team’s Call 4 Action volunteers heard from a disappointed customer and helped him secure a refund.  Seeking a relaxing vacation, the man had rented a property in Sonoma, California.  The pictures were lovely, but once they arrived, things sounded different than they’d hoped.  The property’s roof was under construction, and the sound of power tools and hammering ruined the peaceful atmosphere he’d paid for.  After contacting AirBnB to complain, he was quickly promised a refund, which the property owner sent.  However, AirBnB contacted him again, explaining that the company, not the property owner, had to be the ones to process the refund.  He allowed them to charge his credit card again, but the refund never came.  Months later, he contacted the I-Team’s Call For Action volunteers, who were able to secure his final refund within a few hours.  The company also apologized for the error.

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While this was a legitimate property offer that just encountered a few isolated problems, consumers should be aware that vacation rentals have become increasingly popular targets for scammers thanks to the convenience of online listings.  Call For Action has a few tips to avoid being scammed when you plan your vacation:

  • Don’t wire money or pay with a prepaid or gift card for a vacation rental. Once the scammer collects the money, it is almost impossible to get it back.
  • Don’t be rushed into a decision. If you receive an email pressuring you to make a decision on the spot for a rental, ignore it and move on.
  • Look out for super cheap rates for premium vacation properties. Below-market rent can be a sign of a scam. Do some extra research to confirm the deal is legitimate before jumping in.
  • Get a copy of the contract before you send any deposit money. Check that the address of the property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm the location of the property and other details on the contract.
  • Platform protections and money back policies typically only apply if the transaction is completed through the rental site.  Always be suspicious if the property owner asks you to pay offline or through unaffiliated online payment platforms, like bitcoin.