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Tips on avoiding travel and vacation scams

Timeshares and vacation rentals are a great way to enjoy the comforts of home when you travel. However, scammers love to take advantage of vacationers by making false promises and creating a sense of urgency to fool them into paying for something that doesn’t exist.

How the Scam Works:
In travel and vacation scams, con artists post listings for properties that either aren’t for rent, don’t exist, or are significantly different than pictured. They lure in vacationers with the promise of low fees and great amenities. Typically, the “owner” creates a false sense of urgency – maybe another vacationer is interested in the rental – to get you to pay up before doing sufficient research.

Another common travel scam is the timeshare resale con. A timeshare owner who is looking to sell gets a call from someone claiming to be a real estate broker or agent. These scammers claim to specialize in timeshare resales and promise they have buyers ready to purchase. To secure this service, the scammer pressures the target into paying an upfront fee. The timeshare owner pays up, but the reselling agent never delivers.

Tips to Avoid This Scam:

Talk with the owner. If you are not using a service that verifies properties and owners, do not negotiate a rental solely by email. Many scammers don’t live locally, so get the owner on the phone and ask detailed questions about the property and local attractions. An owner with vague answers to your questions is a clear red flag.

Check public records. Investigate on Google or another search engine. Look up the address and use Google Street View to confirm the property matches the one advertised. Also, verify distances to beaches, attractions and airports while on the site.

Look for reviews and ask for references. While you’re vetting properties, don’t forget to check bbb.org and other online reviews. Some vacation rental websites provide an opportunity to rate the rental property as well as the owner or property manager. If the property you’re considering doesn’t have any online reviews, ask for references and call them. Again, listen for vague answers, which could indicate the reference is simply a friend of the scammer.

Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card. You should never pay for a vacation rental by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. These payments are the same as sending cash. Once you send the money, you have no way to get it back. That’s why scammers depend upon these forms of payment. Paying with a credit card is your best bet to avoid being out money because of a shady vacation rental. If your rental ends up being a scam, you can dispute the charge and dramatically limit your liability.

If it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t. Scammers lure in targets by guaranteeing sales or promising vacation rentals at low prices. Do your research. If the listing you are considering is much cheaper than others in the area, be suspicious. In general, free online ad services are also going to be riskier than a site with fraud protection features.

About the Author

Vee Daniel is President & CEO of the Better Business Bureau Upstate SC. Prior to joining the BBB, Daniel served as Director of Events & Membership Services for the Home Builders Association of South Carolina and Executive Officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Spartanburg.

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