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

See BBB’s travel HQ for more tips for planning and booking your next vacation. Read these tips on avoiding hidden travel fees and spotting hotel scams.

If you spot a scam while booking travel online, report it at Your report can help other consumers spot a scam before it’s too late!