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I've had two different con artists try to rent our unit and it's only been on the market for a couple of months. We could use your advice on how to better nip these in the bud or handle them better.
Both inquiries came through VacationRental.com. Not sure why. Maybe they don't check as closely as HomeAway and VRBO, who we also use. The first scam came within a day of us making our unit available. He said he was a scientist of some sort and his trip would be paid by a college he was to work at this summer. I was suspicious because of the wording but new to this and hoped for the best. He said he had requested the college send us a check. I was familar with the check con and told him the check had to be made out for the exact amount and we would not issue a refund should he cancel at such a late date. Even after that, he told me the check was on its way but included his travel expenses and wanted me to send him a refund on that portion of the check. The check arrived and looked like an official check from a college back east. I told him I knew what he was doing and would turn the check over to our local police. I never heard from him again. But wasted more time than I should have.
But we received another today from someone else. He wanted to book for a single night. I told him we had a two-night minimum. Then, we received another email saying he had been wrong on the date and wanted to book it for a week for his honeymoon. His father in law or someone would send us a check. I told him we now only handle bookings via PayPal. Haven't heard back yet and likely won't.
Since most of you guys have been doing this far longer than we have, any suggestions?
I just heard back from today's guy. He said he didn't have a PayPal account but did have a credit card. I told him we would invoice him via email and he could pay it with a credit card. He didn't need to have a PayPal account. How safe is PayPal on clearing credit cards? What should I be aware of. It would be nice if he was legit. But he may just be smarter than me at all this.
as the old saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.
don't ever refund someone because they sent you an amount higher then requested - send them their check back. the idea that they sent too much is a HUGE red flag.
tell the second guy you only take payment and contract with the person staying in the home.
i had an older lady email me saying how perfect my home would be for her son and daughter inlaw. she wanted me to send her a contract. i told her to forward my ad to her son and i'd deal with him and that i can only engage with the person staying in the house. it was a legit inquiry but sometimes people just don't think - happens to owners too.
Guests can pay via PayPal without an account. You create an invoice in PayPal, which then gets sent to the guests. The guests go to PayPal and pay your invoice using their credit card - no PayPal account required.
For me, this is LESS about how to sniff out con artists and MORE about how to develop good owner habits.
The owner should always be in the position of power: never budge on your payment requirements, never even reply to guests who are clearly not serious renters, and never ever let anyone stay in your rental without full, legit payment up front.
A slight side-story: We had a walk-in guest who had "lost his wallet" in Nicaragua and wanted to pay using a friend's credit card from home. (In hindsight, foolishly) I accepted the card details and charged him for a 2 week stay which amounted to about $4,000. In the end, after he left, I realized I may have just partaken in a credit card scam, so I called Visa and reported the incident. Turns out, it was not a scam, that the guy really did lose his wallet and his friend really was happy to front the charge. Story aside, I learned two very important things from the Visa rep:
1) If it is a case of credit card fraud and the details have been typed into the computer (be it a form, reservations system...etc) by someone other than yourself, your company is not liable for the loss. However...
2) If you run the credit card charge without having the card in front of you (like I did) then you ARE responsible for the charges should an investigation ensue.
Nonetheless, good things to know for any future suspicious encounters of the third kind.
Everyone's situation is different. I would rather forego a rental than run the risk of being scammed or have a renter who would not take good care of the property.
I do not accept credit cards or have a Pay Pal account. I accept personal checks only. The final payment is due 45 days prior to check-in (to allow plenty of time for the check to clear). If I were to have a last-minute rental (i.e. within two weeks of the commencement date) I would require a wire transfer.
I have the name of everyone staying in the property on the lease. All checks must be drawn on an account that has the name of at least one of the persons on the lease. I will not accept a check drawn on another account, even if it is the renter's parent.
I want to try to avoid any damage to my property. For this reason, I use a security deposit system and do not use property damage coverage for renters. If the rent and security deposit are being paid for by someone else (even the renter's relative) or is insured, I don't feel that there is much incentive for the renter to take good care of the property.
Personally, I don't want HomeAway to make decisions about anything to do with my inquiries. They have made very few changes that have actually worked when they took them live. The last thing I want them to do is mess with my prospects. I'll decide if they're bogus. Right now I can't log in to my dashboard on VRBO. I called and was told they are upgrading the system. DURING BUSINESS HOURS???? No, there's more to it than that. I never heard of a scheduled upgrade that takes the system down during business hours by any Internet business. And don't get me started on the things they said they'd fix that have gone UNfixed for months.
Update: Log in is working now.
Try having them pay a fee in order to submit a rental application.
Thanks everyone for the great advice. I told him he had to use PayPal and he said he would, but never did.
If I am suspicious, I will request that they call me to discuss details. Most won’t and it weeds out a lot of potential problems. If you do get the person on the phone, ask them questions like: What dates are you interested in? Even if they put one down in the e-mail, make them repeat it. If they are lying, it’s can get tricky to keep the story straight. If it’s a legit traveler, they will know when they need to be there. Other questions: What brings you to my area? Have you been here before? How many in your family or group? Kids? How old? Pets? How Old? Then relate to them. Aren’t kids fun at that age? Or oh my dog this… I have never had a scammer get that far into a conversation with me. They can try all day, but it’s pretty easy to tell after a few calls. When someone calls(doesn’t matter who) and asks about my rentals, I always ask them what dates they are interested in. This solves the solicitation issue as well. It puts the caller in a position to immediately disclose their business and they are unable to waste my time after that. Try it! Lara
If I am suspicious, I will request that they call me to discuss details. Most won’t and it weeds out a lot of potential problems.
If you do get the person on the phone, ask them questions like:
What dates are you interested in? Even if they put one down in the e-mail, make them repeat it. If they are lying, it’s can get tricky to keep the story straight. If it’s a legit traveler, they will know when they need to be there.
What brings you to my area?
Have you been here before?
How many in your family or group? Kids? How old? Pets? How Old?
Then relate to them. Aren’t kids fun at that age? Or oh my dog this…
I have never had a scammer get that far into a conversation with me. They can try all day, but it’s pretty easy to tell after a few calls.
When someone calls(doesn’t matter who) and asks about my rentals, I always ask them what dates they are interested in. This solves the solicitation issue as well. It puts the caller in a position to immediately disclose their business and they are unable to waste my time after that. Try it!
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Want to help your business boom?
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For those worried about cons, please be careful with Paypal payments:
Today, I had a guest wanting pay for a stay by use of Paypal. I had read on other threads that some had experienced problems with Paypal payments and Paypal policies did not permit rent payments via their system.
So, today, I phoned HA/VRBO Customer service about it, the person informed me that Reservation Manage system was not set up to accept Paypal. I inquired about what I had heard. The rep. acknowledged that they had heard similar but did not know Paypal's policies.
So, I then phoned Paypal and specifically inquired about accepting Paypal as a payment method for rent in a vacation rental home. The representive placed me oon hold and said that he needed to inquire of his supervisor. After about a 4 minute hold, he came back on the line to inform me that rent payments, particulaly fora vacation rental, do not fit their criteria of goods and services and that should the person making the payment later complain, open a dispute, or seek a refund, Paypal would almost always side with the person making the payment. I repeated back my understanding of what he said (as above). He acknowledged it as correct.
The foregoing was sufficent for me. If the guest is an honorable person, there would likely be no problem with a Paypal payment method. But, it the person is less than honorable and opens a dispute, you risk being on the outside looking in.
Thanks, old_frog, for taking the time to check on the PayPal question and then posting it for other owners. I appreciate it!