3 Ways to Avoid a Fraudulent Vacation Rental


Courtney Babin
ACFE Communications Coordinator

Vacation approaching? Longer days are on the way, along with summer and the chance to put your paid time off (PTO) to good use. With so many websites (Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO) offering rentals, how do you know the difference between safe opportunities and false promises? As an Airbnb host in Austin, Texas, I’m part housekeeper, part businesswoman and part concierge. Among the success stories my friends have shared with me, I’ve also heard the ones of horror due to fraudulent rentals. So I often wonder who the people renting my spare apartment are, and who do they think I am? Renting someone else’s space is not for everyone, but if it is a type of rental you enjoy, then here are a few tips on how to verify that your vacation lives up to your expectations — and that you don’t end up losing money to a convincing rental scam.

Do reverse image searches
If you are using a vacation website, you should use a reverse image search before booking your stay. A reverse image search is available on updated versions of browsers such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. With this technique, you can use a photo to search the internet by copying the URL and pasting it on a Google Image search. By reverse image searching, you are able to see if the rental property is the ‘real deal’ or if it’s an image that is commonly used with real estate scams.

Pay within the vacation website
Never pay outside of a website’s instructed payment method. As an Airbnb host, I can verify that legit hosts want you to pay through the hosting website. Through this security, their earnings are protected by the website’s server just as a guest's identity and investments are secure. Keep in mind that trustworthy hosts will never ask you to pay by wire transfer, bank transfer or by certified check. Also, by paying within the website you will have a complete record of all payments and messages between you and the property’s host. If you pay outside of a rental company’s website there is little to nothing they can assist with once the fraudulent transaction has been made.

Simply use due diligence
I know you’ve heard this before, but if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Research your rental’s location and determine competitive prices where it is located. If the price is too low and you think you have come across an amazing deal (outside Expedia or other well-known discount websites), take caution. Use your personal discretion in order to avoid falling victim to this common fraud scheme.

Once you are ready to book your vacation, make sure to use a credit card — preferably one that has a fraud resolution department that can offer extra protection. If you are planning on booking a rental through other sites that have no payment controls (like Craigslist), simply be careful! There are fraudsters out there ready to make a quick buck on your hard-earned dime.