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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > April 2023 > Vacation-rental scams and how to avoid them

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Vacation-rental scams and how to avoid them

Spring weather can be unpredictable, but one thing’s for certain: Warmer weather is inevitable – which means it’s a good time to start planning a summer vacation. Before you book your trip, it’s wise to invest some time researching your options online and ask others for their opinions and recommendations.
Not only should you do research before booking, but you should keep abreast of travel-related scams. One vacation-rental scam, for example, centers on advertisements for properties that aren’t actually available to rent. Such scammers usually offer below-market rates and ask renters to send a deposit using a wire-transfer, gift card or cryptocurrency.  After renters send the money, they get nothing in return.

For a fun and safe vacation with no unwelcome surprises, watch out for these red flags when booking a vacation:
  • Payment requested outside of the normal website. If you are directed to pay at a website different from the one where the reservation is made, it may be a scam. Never pay for a property in advance when renting from a classified site or social media. It can be standard for an official site such as Airbnb or VRBO to ask for a deposit; otherwise, do not fall for advanced payment requests.
  • Cancellations outside the ordinary. Be wary if a cancellation comes from the booking site. The site may cite problems with the property or say that it is no longer available. Legitimate sites will move your reservation or reimburse you for a rental that becomes unavailable. Sites encouraging you to cancel will likely either charge you fees for cancellation or retain your deposit.
  • Fake photos. If what you are seeing looks too good to be true, it may be a scam. Do your research. Check the address of the property using tools such as Google Maps to see a photo of the rental independent of the booking website.
  • Fake damage fees. Most rental properties leave instructions for renters, such as cleaning responsibilities. Common instructions include removing trash, cleaning all kitchen items used during the visit and laundering towels and bedding. Prior to leaving the property, take pictures of your cleanup effort. If you receive an email claiming that you “trashed” the property and owe a fee, that is a red flag. The email is likely a bogus damage fee request sent by a scammer, not the legitimate property manager or owner.
Tips for avoiding travel scams:
  • Research companies before doing business with them. Look for complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Better Business Bureau. Search online for reviews using the company’s name and words such as “reviews” and “complaints.”
  • Double-check phone numbers and links to make sure they go to the legitimate company you are intending to contact. It is especially important to verify websites before entering any credit card or other personal information. Travel scammers may create phony websites and/or fraudulent customer-support phone numbers.
  • Carefully review the terms and conditions of any agreement before signing, including any cancellation policies or added fees (i.e., a one-time or per-day resort fee charged by some hotels or rental units).
  • Make sure verbal promises are put in writing. Otherwise, they’re not guaranteed.
  • Consider paying with a credit card. You generally have stronger protections to dispute credit-card charges if something goes wrong. 
  • Keep a copy of the contract or purchase agreement. If a problem arises, document the situation. For example, track the names and numbers of people you contact.
  • Verify your reservations. If you book a trip through a third party, call the resort or hotel where you will be staying to confirm your reservation.
Consumers who suspect a scam or who have problems they can’t resolve on their own should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.