Our partners at WJLA in Washington, DC report on the story of a rental property owner who received a phone call from a renter she’d never heard of.  The renter said she had found the property listed on Craigslist and signed a contract. The Craigslist ad was fake. A scammer had obtained photos of the property and posted a genuine-looking advertisement, promising a low price, and hoping to lure unsuspecting consumers in search of a bargain rental.  The owner got pictures of the fake agreement and contacted the police.

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Fraudulent rental property listings are becoming an increasing problem.  Some scammers will pull information on a rental property from a real vacation listing, then post it on a different rental site, only substituting their own contact information.  In some cases they even using the real owner’s name to make their listing appear more legitimate. Some have hijacked the email accounts of actual property owners on legitimate sites.

Other scammers will create a listing for either a property that doesn’t exist or one that is not a rental at all.  In order to trick victims, they will often list these properties at much lower prices than average for the area or promise extraordinary amenities.  The idea is to tempt people to act quickly and hand over their money without investigating the legitimacy of the offer.

How do you avoid a rental scam?

  • 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.
  • If you paid with a credit card, notify your bank to dispute the charge.

If you sent money for a rental and believe you have been scammed, contact the company you used to send the money.  They may or may not be able to get your money back, but alerting them to the fraud is helpful.

To submit your consumer complaint, use our online form.