Experts: Home rentals may lead you right into scam if you're not careful

April 23, 2014 8:54:11 PM PDT
'Tis the season to book summer vacation but Consumer Reports says beware of vacation rental scams that can pack a very nasty surprise.

If you are not careful, that rental home may lead you right into a scam. Criminals are hacking into the email accounts of owners of rental properties, and defrauding renters out of a lot of money.

Kathie Grealish is proud of the summerhouse she rents out with a beautiful view of the water. But she was shocked recently to get a call from a woman who thought she had a signed contract for the house.

"She said our family is coming and we're looking into renting bicycles. I said, 'I don't, this name does not sound familiar,'" she said.

Grealish lists her house on Vacation Rentals by Owner, a popular vacation rental site. Apparently, a scam artist had hacked into her email, and posing as her, sent a forged contract. It listed a foreign bank and told the renter to send more than $3,000.

"That's just one of the tricks that criminals use to steal your money and ruin your vacation. Another ploy? They lure you with properties that are in foreclosure or don't even exist," said Tobie Stanger with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports found many complaints of vacation fraud with a simple online search.

To protect yourself, before you send any money, call the owner and develop a business relationship. That way you can assess the legitimacy of the listing and the person's right to rent it.

"How you pay is also important. Never use payments like wire transfers, cashier's checks, money orders. They don't provide protection in the event of fraud," Stanger said.

The safest ways to pay are by credit card, PayPal or by using the payment transfer option on the rental website. Consumer Reports also recommends using the website Flipkey if you want to rent a house or apartment. It conducts background checks on landlords and makes sure the properties are legitimate so you can avoid a vacation disaster.

Consumer Reports says you might also consider rental guarantee insurance. The vacation websites VRBO and Homeaway provide $10,000 of coverage for $39.

Also, if you are renting a home in the Houston area, check the listing on to see if it shows up there as well.

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