Rental scams are an unfortunate part of the vacation rental industry. Any time money changes hands without the two parties meeting in person, there is the opportunity for one of the two parties to take advantage of the other. Most times, vacation rental scams end up affecting the property owner rather than the renter, but there are some rare instances where renters are scammed by supposed property owners who are not who they claim to be.
You can protect yourself from rental scams by gathering as much information as possible about a rental property before sending a property owner any money. Talk with the property owner of any rental you are interested in both on the phone and via email multiple times if necessary to ensure that the property owner, and the property, are legitimate. Be wary of any property owner who says that they cannot speak to you directly, or seems confused about contact information or property location. Use the Internet to Google the rental property location to be sure that it exists, and the property owner’s name to make sure he or she is an actual person.
You can also gauge whether a property and a property owner are legitimate by the listing itself. If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. For example, something is probably fishy if you see a 5-bedroom private beachfront home in the Hamptons renting for $500 per week. Also check for reviews from previous renters, and look at the availability calendar. If the house has never been rented out before, and has no reviews, these might be considered red flags. Ask for references from past renters or additional pictures of the property in order to determine the validity of the listing.
When sending money to a property owner for a rental deposit or security deposit, always try to pay with credit card or PayPal. Avoid using Western Union or MoneyGram services that are often used by scammers to collect money. Always err on the side of caution if you suspect that something might not be right.