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The holidays are a period for sharing, giving, and spending time with family and loved ones. This period sees an increase in traveling and demand for vacation rentals. In addition to purchasing travel packages from hotel chains and tour agents, travelers also rent short-term accommodations at popular cities worldwide through numerous vacation rentals websites such as Airbnb or Booking.com, while some search on social media like Facebook and Instagram.
There is always an excess of everything – food, gifts, family treats, and getaways, during the holiday seasons. So, many people spend extravagantly and require ways to recuperate or finance their expenses. Hence, they resort to renting their homes to strangers or renting from strangers.
It is custom for many to visit parents and relatives during festive seasons. However, there may be no extra space to accommodate the large gathering of family or privacy concerns in a home where people gather on Christmas Day. These travelers have no option but to stay in a hotel or short-term rental.
This situation creates a high demand for short lets as many hotels are fully-booked during this peak season.
There is also a group of people who need the extra income to cater to their immediate needs. Hence, put their homes out to rent or share with strangers.
Lastly, the third group is people who are out to con innocent people of their money. This group of people can pose as short-term rental owners or legitimate renters. As you read further, you will discover some of the short-term rentals scams and tricks played by these con artists.
There is so much vacation rentals fraud out there that it is difficult to know which one is real from the fake. I will mention a few of them – the deposit scam, fake alert scam, bogus listings, chargeback scam, unauthorized agent scam, clickbait scam, double booking scam, and email scam.
Most vacation rental websites have a strict payment policy that requires renters to make payments only through the website. However, if you are new to renting or yet to understand the website rules, you may fall for this scam. One of the most common scams is the holding deposit scam. It goes thus: The vacation rental owner asks you to make payments or a holding deposit for the property via other means outside of the website – probably via wire transfer, western union, money gram, mobile money transfers like MPESA, or any other irreversible payment method.
After sending the money, the person disappears and becomes unreachable. You should always report any user who asks you for these payment types. Safest way to pay for vacation rental is through the website payment system.
Let’s say you are comparing prices from various websites to save costs. It is easy to fall prey to this bogus listing scam. There are several classified sites, including Facebook marketplace and Instagram shops, where you can find all sorts of items you need. Such sites do not verify real-world identity before a listing is published.
Scammers are wise enough to know that a lower price will attract more traffic and victims. They put up properties with images downloaded from the internet, luxurious but cheap. If the deal seems too good to be true, skip my dear, skip.
Many property managers or agents run the click-bait scam. They advertise an unavailable property to lure prospective guests to a substandard property. However, what you get after the booking is not as advertised. They give you a less-appealing property for the price of the advertised property. I read a report by one Allie Conti titled “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb“
The double booking scam is another version of the click-bait scam. The property owner rents a property to two or more guests with a first-come-first-serve plan. The guest that arrives early gets the property, while the other guest gets a far-worse property compared to the agreed price.
The guests get the property as advertised but no sooner than check-in are they informed of a price increment. At the new price, the guests could have gotten far better properties in the same area.
The scam in the vacation rentals industry goes both ways – host ripping off guests and guests ripping off hosts. The most common vacation rentals scams by travelers are fake alert scams, chargeback scams, and refund scams.
Just a few weeks ago, I saw on Twitter a story about a serial scammer who galivants around short-term rentals, promised to pay before check-out, but ended up sending fake bank confirmation SMS to the host. With the increase in technology, scammers can now mask a number to look like the call or text message originates from your bank. It is advisable to check your account balance or call your bank directly to confirm the transaction.
The guest waits until the check-out hour to initiate payment via mobile money transfers or bank wire transfers. Once out of the premises, call the bank or initiate a reversal claim of transfer to a wrong recipient or unauthorized transaction.
The refund scam is one of the oldest scams ever. The guest pretends to have accidentally paid more than the agreed price. Then asks for a refund of the balance in cash. In most cases, the initial payments are made fraudulently with stolen credit cards, checks, or hacked bank accounts.
Another version of the refund scam is when a traveler books a long period but claims to have an emergency and needs to cut short his stay. So, needs a cash refund for the rest of booked period.
Whatever the case may be, do not refund in cash unless the guest had paid in cash.
You get a poorly written email requesting the availability or price of your rental. After the first reply, you will get another email with an attachment containing more information about their intended trip.
The attached file is a ploy to hack you and steal your data. When you open it, you surrender access to your computer and data to the scammer, who can use it to defraud others.
There is a new trend of rent defaulters. They are apartment hoppers. They like to stay in fancy accommodations but never to pay. There have been name-shaming of defaulters on a popular Kenyan Facebook group called Buyers Beware Kenya.
Be careful not to fall prey to any of the short-term rentals scams listed above because you cannot recover any money sent to scammers. There are lots of vacation rental schemes out there. It is up to you to be conscious and educate yourself to identify a deal that seems too good to be true. We hope that our advice will help you stay woke against all short-term rental schemes.
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