Don’t take scammers on vacation with you

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Summer is officially upon us and we hope that everyone is getting out to enjoy their favorite pastimes, whether that’s just getting into the great outdoors or traveling to that ultimate vacation destination. Some of us use timeshares and vacation rentals to go to exotic locations we may not normally visit. 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.

Travel scams come in all shapes and sizes, but in this case, we are focusing on booking scams. Shady scammers will be working overtime to put up fake rental listings, last-minute deals, and urgent sale prices to make sure your vacation plans are over before they’ve even begun! Keep your wits about you this summer and make sure you don’t fall for a too-good-to-be-true deal that leaves you burnt without even stepping foot on the beach.

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 then 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 scam. 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 These Scams

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.

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 losing 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.

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.

In the event that something does go wrong, we are here for you. Victims can file complaints at bbb.org about any companies that operate in the U.S. or Canada. To file a report about being scammed, visit bbb.org/scamtracker.

•••

Jason Kama of Hayden is the area’s BBB outreach specialist. Email: jason.kama@thebbb.org

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