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How to Spot a Vacation Rental Scam Inquiry, for U.S. Owners

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Created on: Aug 26, 2009 1:51 PM by community-editor - Last Modified:  Feb 26, 2014 2:43 PM by community-editor
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The vacation rental business is much like that of Craigslist or eBay — a customer is giving you money upfront for a good or service (a stay in your second home). It's important that you protect yourself when doing business with vacation rental customers in the same manner, just as you would when buying or selling a sofa on Craigslist or an antique clock on eBay. Your best protection is being aware of red flags in your inquiries and thoroughly screening your guests.
protect yourself from vacation rental scams
10 Common Scammer Red Flags

  1. Demonstrates a poor grasp of spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation.
  2. Uses a free online e-mail service, especially from another country (e.g. Yahoo.co.uk).
  3. Gives you far more information than the typical traveler.
  4. Is a religious figure, sea captain, doctor, or officer in the armed forces.
  5. Wants to arrange a surprise trip for someone else (like a godson).
  6. Wants to pay by certified check, cashier's check, or unsecured wire transfer.
  7. Offers to pay more than your stated rate.
  8. Can't keep their own name straight within the inquiry (e.g. refers to himself in places as John Smith and other times as Smith Jones).

  9. Refers to your home improperly in the body of the inquiry (e.g. asks about your lovely apartment when you own a cabin).
  10. Gives you an uneasy feeling that something isn't quite right.

 

Included below are templates of common scam inquiries received by owners. If you're unsure about a particular inquiry, feel free to contact us and we'll see if we can spot any red flags.

 

Examples of Scam Inquiries

Here is an example of a general inquiry that should raise some red flags:

Name: Frank Bernand
Email: bernandfrank@gmail.com
Phone #: + 44 7023031826
Arrival date: Nov 14 2009
Departure date: Nov 21 2009
Total # in party: 2 (including children)
No of children: 0
Further info: Hello,I and my wife are searching for where to stay for our honeymoon in any week by November for just one week.If your home is available kindly get back to us with the quote and available date ASAP,and our date is flexible,No kids and No pets. Th anks

Although this inquirer does not provide much information to go by in the initial inquiry, some red flags to note are:

  • Extremely poor grammar. Although this does not mean that you should discount every bad writer or poor typer out there, it’s something to notice.
  • Confusion about requested dates. Scammers will often submit an inquiry with specific dates and then tell the homeowner that the dates are flexible.
  • U.K. contact information (When your property is in the United States.) Many scammers use email addresses and phone numbers from the U.K. While this does not mean that you should turn away all renters from the United Kingdom, this type of contact info - combined with other peculiarities within an inquiry - are pretty good signs that the inquiry is a scam.
Here is another scam inquiry that was submitted by a vacation rental owner with a bit more information:

Name: HENDRIX SVENNIGSEN
Email: hendrixsvennigsen@yahoo.com
Phone #: + 1 206-666-3053
Arrival date: Dec 1 2007
Departure date: Dec 21 2007
Total # in party: 2 (including children)
No of children: 0
Further info: Hello, I wish to inquire booking availability in your home for a 21 Days Honeymoon surprise wedding package of my Godson which I was unable to attend because I am presently in the Gulf region. Check your availability of 21 days vacancy effect in December 2007 thou can be flexible preferably 1st through 21st, Confirm availability and get back to me immediately with scheduled date; cost for the period, Security Deposit, Cleaning fees, Tax and any order major services to be rendered, all been totaled, for the couple alone,no pets, neither do they smoke.I will need to conclude this booking early enough ready! for them to avoid any inconvenience during there stay.Bear in mind that I have Cashier's check made out for this transaction,is it okay to pay with it? Regards.

The reasons this inquiry might make us hesitant include:

  • Too much information upfront. References to a gift for a godson, bringing children along for a honeymoon, location information that states "the Gulf region," or contact info mentioning the "Liberty Suites Agency" are all popular with scammers. In general, be wary of these types of odd, unsolicited comments.
  • Repeated information. This scammer reiterates several times that he is looking for a 21-day stay. And once again, after providing specific dates, he then says his dates are flexible. This is especially odd for an extended trip.
  • Unsolicited payment information. To start, it is odd for a potential guest to provide payment information in the initial inquiry before he/she even knows whether your home is available. Furthermore, a request to pay by cashier's check is always a red flag because this is a common method used by scammers (in addition to untraceable wire transfers.) Besides, typical vacation home renters would likely inquire about your preferred payment method before volunteering a somewhat unconventional approach.
So you’ve passed Scams 101, and you know which signs to look out for. However, unless you have continued your correspondence with a scammer or actually made the mistake of accepting the booking, you might not understand where the actual scam comes into play or when you need to take action.

Here’s a clear example of how scammers try and swindle vacation homeowners out of their rental income:

Good day

How are you doing ? I just received a confirmation that the check payment for my
rent has been issued on your name and mailed out to your address, so keep an eye
on it. There was a mix up before the check was mailed out. The accommodation fee and
my travel expense was included in the check that was sent to you.
I want you to deduct your cost price for the accommodation and send the balance
via western union or money gram transfer to my travel agent to enable me book
for my flight down to your place. Do you know any western union or money gram
agent near to you?. Finally, let me know when you get the check, I am very sorry
for the inconveniences caused for you sending the money down to the travel
agent. The check will deliver on wednesday 10:00AM.
I will send you the information on the payment. My travel agent Name and
address to send the! money through western union or money gram after it clear
your bank. my bank official check clears in 1-3 days.

My Agent info:
John W Shull
508 W Stone St
Gibsonburg, Ohio 43431

Thanks Dr Thomas and Rita Bode

The reasons this is the most obvious type of scam e-mail are:

  • A mix-up with the amount on the check. When you confirm a booking for a guest, but he tells you that he sent a check for an amount greater than what he owes for his stay, this is 100% indicative of a scam. Here’s what happens: the guest will ask you to return the difference between what he sent and what he owes you for the rental. (Note: many scammers will even tip you off in the initial inquiry telling you that their company is going to pay for the trip. At that point, consider yourself warned.) The problem is that the check he sends you is fraudulent. So when you send the money back, you are actually paying the scammer and losing out on your own money. In the meantime, your bank will attempt to deposit the fraudulent check. Be forewarned: it can take up to two weeks for your bank to alert you that the check is a fraud. By that time, your money (and the scammer) are long gone.
  • References to Western Union or Money Gram. Once again, these are payment methods that scammers use because they sound legitimate and are untraceable.

 

There are a few hard and fast signs that should perk your scammer antennae. Just remember, none of these red flags alone is enough to indicate that your inquirer is definitely a scammer. While the following synopsis includes the most common traits of the scammers who send fraudulent inquiries to vacation rental owners, legitimate travelers can also share some of these characteristics. An inquiry that meets any of these criteria should put you on red alert, but not necessarily force your finger to press "delete."


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