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July 26, 2022 Security

Don’t Fall For Vacation Scams

With prices rising, including hotel stays, record numbers of vacationers choose to rent private homes or apartments on sites like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO). Unfortunately, vacation scams are on the rise as well.

Here’s all you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.

How Vacation Scams Play Out

Airbnb scams and security issues have become a big concern over the last few months. There are several variations of vacation rental scams.

In one version, the vacation rental advertised on Airbnb or a similar site does not exist or is in an inferior condition. The scammer uses online images or doctored photos to create the bogus listing and rounds out the ruse by creating several fake reviews.

If a target falls for the scam and rents the “vacation rental,” they’ll be disappointed to arrive at the posted address on the listing. They may find that the rental does not exist or is entirely run down.

In another version, an individual rents a listing and receives a message from the renter just before arrival about a last-minute plumbing emergency at the rental site. They’ll be directed to go to another rental instead. This substitute rental will be far worse than the one the vacationer rented.

Yet another variation, a vacationer unknowingly books a rental on an Airbnb look-alike site. Scammers lure their targets toward these sites by “domain squatting” or creating a site with a similar URL to a well-known site, which in this example is Airbnb. The fake website enables scammers to capture the payment information of their victims and use it to empty their accounts, or worse.

In a more recent version of the vacation rental scam, criminals exploit people’s kindness and the war in Ukraine to con victims out of their money.

Here’s how it works: Generous donors are booking vacation rentals in Ukraine without intending to actually use them as a means to get money to Ukrainians. Airbnb has supported this initiative by waiving all host fees for rentals in Ukraine. Unfortunately, scammers have been creating fake listings in Ukraine and using the money to line their pockets.

Vacation Scam Red Flags

Avoid vacation scams by looking out for these warning signs:

  • The listing is relatively new yet has multiple reviews from alleged past guests. This is especially true if the listing is in Ukraine.
  • The listing is riddled with typos and spelling mistakes.
  • The images of the listing look too professional and perfect.
  • The pictures and description of the rental don’t match up to its price.
  • The URL of the listing site is not secure.
  • The owner asks you to finalize the reservation on a platform that is not the hosting platform.
  • The owner insists on being paid via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.
  • The owner demands you share more information than they should need for you to reserve a rental.

Protect Yourself From Vacation Scams

Take these steps to protect yourself from a vacation rental scam:

  1. Check, double-check and triple-check the URL before booking a listing. Look for signs of a secure site, like the lock icon and the “s” after the “HTTP,” and make sure you are still on the authentic host site, such as Airbnb.com, and that you haven’t been lured into a bogus look-alike site.
  2. Verify that the street address of a rental does indeed exist. You can also Google the address to see if there are any images associated with the address outside the vacation rental site.
  3. Do a reverse image search to confirm if the photos are doctored or copied stock images.
  4. Never share sensitive information online with an unverified contact.
  5. Use a credit card for all online purchases.
  6. Do an online search of the owner and look for anything suspicious.

If You Think You Were Scammed

As quickly as the listings are posted, they can be taken down. Make a report with the vacation rental company you used if you did, and report it to the FTC as soon as possible.

If the fraud also hits your WeStreet debit or credit card, report it to our Fraud Center, and we will help you through the process.

Don’t let your dream vacation turn into a nightmare. Follow the tips outlined here and stay safe!

This article is for educational purposes only. WeStreet Credit Union makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as legal, tax or financial advice. Nor does the information directly relate to our products and/or services terms and conditions.