There is a lot of coordination that goes into planning a vacation – you’ve got to arrange travel, lodging, logistics, food, and more – and that’s all while you figure out how to pay for your trip! But if you’re planning on booking a rental property for your vacation, you also need to look out for rental listing scams.

Rental scams generally involve a scammer trying to fleece you out of your money before you ever set foot in your destination. As you hunt for the perfect vacation property, here’s how to spot rental listing scams.

How Rental Scammers Operate

The primary objective of most vacation rental scams is simple: the scammers want to convince you to cough up money for a reservation or security deposit, then disappear with your cash without providing any services in return. These scams usually involve creating illegitimate online rental listings:

Impersonating Real Ads

Some scammers will hijack a legitimate vacation rental by impersonating the online rental listing. They’ll take the content of the listing – including descriptions and images –  and change the contact information before posting it on another website. The listing will appear high quality and real, but anyone who reaches out via the duplicate listing will be communicating with the scammers.

In some cases, the scammers may even hack into the email accounts of property owners who have legitimate listings on real websites.

Fake Rentals

Other scammers may create listings for vacation properties that either aren’t for rent or don’t actually exist and try to lure victims with extremely low rates or impressive amenities. Their goal is to get your cash before you realize it’s a false listing.

How to Spot a Scam

Protecting yourself from rental listing scams requires some diligence, but there are some signs that will help you spot if the rental you’re looking at is actually a front for a scam. Here are some ways to recognize a possible scam:

  • Payment is requested in the form of wires or gift cards: Some scammers will ask you to wire money for your reservation or security deposit (or even pay using unusual methods, like gift cards). The problem is that cash, gift cards, and other physical payment types are hard to trace. Legitimate rentals should accept credit cards, which provide better protections against fraud (wire transfers are common in some countries, but you should see if you can find an alternate payment method).
  • The rental price is too good to be true: If the listing is offering bargain basement rates for premium properties, it’s probably too good to be true. While vacation booking companies offer deals all the time, they usually won’t go dramatically below market. Do some extra research to determine if the renter is legitimate.
  • You’re getting pressured to book: If you receive communications pressuring you to make an immediate decision, you should back off.
  • You can’t locate the rental: Verify the rental property actually exists using an online map. Scammers may use fake addresses or the address of a warehouse, business, or vacant lot. If the property doesn’t exist online, it may not exist in real life.
  • You find duplicate listings online: Make sure to research the property and the person or company that is renting it. Look for the owner’s name, property address, and images of the property. If you find duplicate listings from another owner or other suspicious red flags, you should avoid booking that rental.
  • The renter wants to communicate outside official channels: If you’re using a website like VRBO or Airbnb and the owner tries to shift you into communicating and/or submitting payment outside the official platform, you should be careful. Scammers may try to divert you to another communication channel where you don’t realize a scam is taking place, and transactions that take place outside the official platform may not be covered under the official business’s protection policies.