1. If the Deal is too Good to be True, It Is!
The rental cost of vacation homes is based on the number of rooms, amenities, and location, such as if it is beachfront or not. Do your research and check the prices in the same neighborhood or vicinity, so you have a good idea for how the rates compare to the property you want to rent. If the cost of the property is dramatically discounted compared to others in the area, it is probably to good to be true.
2. Avoid Nonsecure Payment Methods
The safest way to pay for a vacation rental is through your credit card (not the same thing as your debit card). Credit cards provide more customer protection than any other payment method.
Never pay a stranger (or someone you don't trust 100%) via cash, check, Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, debit card, or wire transfer. Scammers will insist you pay via one of the above methods and once they receive the money, they will disappear, making it virtually impossible to find them. (Even if you use your credit card in Venmo, for example, you will lose the protection of your credit card because by using Venmo, you have essentially given up those protections.)
Never give the vacation rental owner (or representative) your credit card information over the phone, by email, or in any other way. Only use your credit card through a secure credit card processor like Stripe or Square. You enter your own information and the property owner never sees your credit card numbers.
3. Look for owners who have Security Policies and Rental Agreements
Legitimate owners have security policies/deposits, rental agreements and typically require an ID, just like hotels do. Real owners want to protect their homes and want to make sure the transaction is legal. A signed rental agreement with the terms, rules, and conditions of the rental also offers you, the guest, an extra level of security.
4. Ask Questions
Legitimate owners will be able and more than willing to answer detailed questions about the home and its amenities, as well as the local area. If someone won't answer your questions or gives you only general information that you can easily Google, move on.
5. Verify the Existence of the Owner
Look up the name of the owner and see if they really exist. Most active owners have websites and social media pages such as property business pages on Facebook, Instagram, etc. Most legitimate owners will maintain updated social media accounts and respond in a timely manner.
You can also look up the owner of a property (if you have the address) on county property records (typically these are online by county). Exception: if the property is owned by an LLC or other company, you may have to look up the persons listed as being members of that company to get a person's name. You can also look this up online.
6. Be careful of invitations to "PM me"
Sometimes a Facebook post will link to an Airbnb or VRBO site, but the post will say, "PM me to book direct." Be careful of this!
First, check to see that the dates you are wanting to book are actually available on the linked site. Don't fall for: "Oh, I just got a cancellation for those dates and the calendar doesn't show it yet. But I can book it direct for you!" If the dates don't show as available on the official website, don't book it direct by private message. This is a common scam!
Before you agree to pay for anything, remember to conduct some research on the property as well as its owner. Go through the steps suggested above to make sure the person you are talking to is legitimately the owner of the property.
7. Trust Your Gut
If something doesn't feel right about the transaction, STOP IT sooner rather than later.
What to do if you feel you have been scammed:
I hope you have avoided this situation, but in case it's too late...
If you do get scammed and have used your credit card, you must make a WRITTEN dispute to your credit card company within 60 days of the statement where the charge appears.
Looking for a beach vacation rental perfect for your family? Check out HHI Tide 21 - a no fees (at all!) vacation rental at oceanfront Hilton Head Beach and Tennis Resort in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. www.hhitide21.com