You’ve all heard plenty of stories about Internet scams. It’s more important than ever to be vigilant to protect not only yourself but unsuspecting vacationers, too. There are a number of ways someone could use your online listing for a money-making scam or simply to use your home inappropriately or disrespectfully. What can you do to prevent them?
Tips to protect yourself
- Although it’s fine to respond initially to inquiries by email, insist on a phone conversation prior to booking.
- Research your prospective guests (on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Read more about screening your prospective guests.
- ALWAYS use a lease and require a security deposit, even for a stay of a few days.
- Be sure to follow safe practices for keeping the login information secure both on your listing and for your email account(s). A strong password contains 1 or more numbers, capital letters as well as lower case, and even a special character like an @ or $ or %. To be safe, change your email account password occasionally. Scammers can access your email account and take over correspondence with vacationers inquiring about your home, directing the unsuspecting guests to send deposits to the scammer rather than you. Read our blog post about phishing scams, or visit staysafeonline.org.
- Vacationer inquiries you receive will indicate how long they have been using our site. They will also show you any guest reviews they’ve written about other homes they’ve rented from our site.
- If you accept personal checks for payment, be sure the person sending the check is the same person who inquired about your home and with whom you spoke. If you accept credit card payments, make sure the contact information for billing is the same as that of the vacationer who inquired about your home.
- Do not indicate that the number you provide on your listing is a cell. (If you use our Text Alert feature for notifications that you’ve received an email inquiry, the number it comes from is a local one, 774-323-5020.) You can also create a Google phone number that redirects to your cell so you don’t have to post your cell number on your listing.
- Never accept more than what the vacationer owes you. And if they cancel and ask for a refund, do not return any money until their check clears.
- Get full/final payment at least one month prior to arrival.
- Make sure your lease includes language preventing subletting. Our sample lease includes this clause, “The TENANT will not lease or sublet, nor permit others to occupy premises except with prior approval of the LANDLORD.”
- Always use a reputable site to advertise your home. WeNeedaVacation, for example, has been in business since 1997, is local, and screens all new listers.
Last-minute bookings are more prone to risk
Last-minute bookings tend to present a higher degree of risk than normal. Scammers are aware that homeowners are more apt to bend rules in order to make the booking. For last minute payments, ask the renter to pay by credit card/PayPal or to overnight a certified bank check rather than a personal check, which would take longer to get to you and could bounce.
Avoid allowing your listing to be “scraped” to another site
Beware that scammers occasionally “scrape” or copy online listings and pretend to be the homeowner – with THEIR contact information, not YOURS. Although there is no risk to you, it’s devastating to vacationers who discover that they’ve paid for a fake booking.
To help identify if your listing has been scraped, periodically Google your listing’s title, some key words, and/or the first line from your property description You can even set up Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts to notify you if your listing’s title or your street address appears anywhere online. If you learn that your listing has been copied and is being advertised elsewhere, notify the listing website that it is a scam.
Some final advice
The bottom line is that you should trust your instincts. But also, do a little research on your prospective guests, speak with them directly prior to booking, make sure you use a good lease, and follow our other suggestions above to protect yourself!
Learn about tips to avoid other risks besides scams in our “Avoiding pitfalls in managing a vacation rental home.”