BBB Scam Tracker has gotten numerous reports of a clever travel scam this summer vacation season.
The scam involves con artists pretending to own a vacation rental and insisting on being paid directly rather than through the official rental platform. If you book with them, you’ll be out of money and face a potentially ruined vacation.
How the scam works
You search a vacation rental site, such as VBRO or Airbnb, for a place to stay on your next trip and find a perfect rental listing. The photos are beautiful, and the price is right. Other times, you discover the rental through a social media post. The scammer may have shared it to a Facebook group, claiming to be renting “their” vacation home.
Either way, when you message the “owner” about booking, they offer you a deal. If you book with them directly, paying through a digital wallet, such as Venmo or CashApp, instead of the rental platform – they can give you a discount. You agree and send an initial payment. The scammer may reply with a realistic-looking receipt. But once the scammer receives your money, they stop replying to messages. Unfortunately, the vacation home may be real, but the person you paid to rent it is a scammer. They don’t own the property, and your deposit is in the hands of scammers.
One consumer reported this experience: “I booked a long-term rental for June and July on Airbnb through a female host advertised as Amy. I was contacted soon after by a man named Sean over text. He requested a phone call and suggested we go through Venmo instead of Airbnb to avoid fees and to give me a discount…. I decided to cancel to protect myself, but Sean refused to return my 1st-month rent payment of $2,500. I have never been able to speak to Amy and believe he is using this profile as a cover-up to scam people out of money and avoid taxes.”
How to avoid online booking scams
- Do business with reputable websites. Legitimate websites like VRBO and Airbnb have certain policies to protect renters and rental owners. If there’s a problem with your rental, you can open a case, and you may get your money back. If a seller asks you directly to book outside a website, think twice.
- Research the rental property. Do an online search for the owner’s name and/or the property’s address. Look for complaints online, watching for any reports of scams or dishonest behavior.
- Pay with a credit card. Whenever possible, use your credit card to make online purchases. It is easier to dispute fraudulent charges, and you have a better chance of getting your money back if something goes wrong.
- Save any documents related to your purchase. Save copies of your receipt, order confirmation page, shipping information, etc. You may also want to save a copy of the business’ return policy so you know how to proceed if there is a problem with your order or if it doesn’t arrive within the promised timeframe.
For more information
If you spot a scam while booking travel online, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help other consumers spot a scam before it’s too late!