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How To Safely Book Or Reserve A Vacation Rental Property Does It Exist?
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How to Safely Book Or Reserve A Vacation Rental Property Does it Exist?

There is a growing problem. Fraudsters are promoting “non-existent” properties using the internet and getting visitors to pay large amounts of money in advance. When the guest tries to find the property they find it does not exist and the theoretical owner of the property has disappeared with your money.

It is very easy to reserve a vacation rental property. Spend a few minutes searching online and you will be able to find any number of sites offering properties of all types in your chosen destination. The vast majority of properties will require a deposit to secure a reservation. This can be sizeable up to 50% and possibly even 100%. The rental cost of a property can be significant especially if the property is a luxury one and you are booking at a peak time of the vacation rental season.

Unfortunately there are no black and white tests you can make but there are plenty of steps you can take to minimise your risk. It must be pointed out that some of the suspicious things I will point out can also be perfectly ok. Sadly there are property owners and rental companies which need to modernise and change their business practices to become more professional.

Think

Think before you do anything. Do not be rushed. Check everything you are told. One of the keys to making sure everything is ok is communication. Use the telephone and email. Ask any question you feel you need to. Any professional rental company or property owner will be happy to provide you with the information you need.

Company

If you are dealing with a company there are several simple checks you can take.

Does the company have a website? Do the contact details you have match the details on that website. If they do not, call them using the website details and make sure you can speak to the same person you have been dealing with.

Is the property you are considering on the companies website? Do the details (photos, description) match those on the site you have been using.

Does the company claim to have any trade affiliations? For example ABTA, ATOL. Search for these organisations online and contact them. The company will provide their membership number and you can check that everything is ok.

Most companies are legally registered somewhere and will have a unique registration number. Ask the company for these details (they are usually required by law to publish them). Ask them to provide the website where you can check the company using its registration number. In most economies this can be done. Refusal to do this would be suspicious.

Direct with an Owner

Most owners will list their property on multiple websites. Ask the owner for the sites they use and make sure all details match.

Ask for the owners location. If the owner claims to live locally then do a bit of online research about the area and ask them relevant questions, speak to them and see if they really do. If they do not live locally to the property ask them for the details of the company that looks after the property. After all you want to know you will be properly looked after when you are staying at the property. Check out that company to confirm that everything is ok.

Forums and online information

Use a search engine and search for the property and location you are considering. See what information is returned, if people have already had a problem it will probably be listed. Equally if you find feedback from some of the big websites like TripAdvisor then you can have some confidence that everything is ok.

Photos

Anyone listing a property online must use “small photos”. Most digital cameras take photos which are 2MB or more in size. These can be 2000 pixels wide or considerably more. They are useless for websites. Websites need photos which are much smaller so almost without exception original photos are all “processed” to a small size. A typical fraudster will “copy” the processed photos from one website to use them on theirs, so all they will have are the “small” ones.

Ask the person representing the property to email you the high-resolution original. If you are dealing direct with the owner or the company which manages the property on a day to day basis then they should have the original or at least access to it.

You may need to make sure your email can handle an image 2-5MB in size and you will need a WiFi or broadband/DSL connection but most of these things are normal these days. Once you receive a photo “clicking” on it will usually reveal its size. Anything more than 500KB in size is most likely the original photo.

If they do not have the photo or will not send it then you should be suspicious that they did not take it and do they really represent the property? Even if they are intermediaries they should still be able to ask the owner for the photo.

Payment method

Only use a method which is traceable. There are only four methods of payment you should use.

Bank transfer

Be suspicious if you are asked to send a bank transfer outside of the country where the property resides. The only time you should consider this if the owner lives in a different country. For example the owner of a Spanish property may be German and therefore sending a payment to a German bank would not be unusual. Sending a payment to Spain (the same country as the property) would also be normal, anywhere else would be strange. A bank transfer is always risky. If anything goes wrong your bank are unlikely to be able to do anything about it and privacy regulations usually prevent any useful information to be revealed without the involvement of the police. Unfortunately bank transfers are also vital for many legitimate reservations so all you can do is look for danger signs and act accordingly.

Credit card

Most credit card payments are guaranteed. So in the event of fraud you should be able to receive a refund. However, this can take time before you get your money back. Check with your bank first to understand how their guarantee works.

Paypal or similar online payment method

Many of these types of payment methods provide guarantees but more importantly require that anyone using them go through an application process or a verification process. Paypal for example requires as part of the recipients account verification process that the account is “connected” to a bank account or credit card.

Face to face using cash

Cash is still a popular method of payment for vacation rental reservations. Only hand over cash once you have arrived at the property and are in possession of the keys. Never do this “at the airport”, “bus station” etc. The only exception is if you “check-in” at an office or obvious business location which you can return to if there are problems with the property.

Payment methods you should avoid

There are a variety of payment methods which should be avoided if possible, for example Western Union. This is essentially a cash payment where the recipient collects payment from another Western Union agent with ID. The ID may or may not be valid. Once the payment has been collected it is gone and untraceable.

There are similar methods like Western Union, where you pay one location and the payment is collected from another. These are great solutions in theory but open to abuse by fraudsters especially collecting deposits for property rental.

Websites

There are “free listing sites” and “paid listing sites”. There is nothing wrong with either but free listing sites usually are more risky. A paid listing site will usually require payment by credit card or paypal or something similar. All of which means, a potential fraudster will leave a financial “trail” which they want to avoid. Some sites offer a premium service where they have verified the owner of the property. This usually involves checking ID and documents relating to the property, for example proof of ownership. Clearly if a site has done the checking for you then you can book with increased confidence. Usually verified properties have some sort of “special graphic” to certify they have been checked.

Insurance

Check you travel insurance with regards to any compensation you may or may not receive if your booking is “fraudulent”. Do not rely on them refunding all of the money. What happens if you need emergency accommodation, who pays for it?

Other things to consider

Do not think the above “is it”. There are undoubtedly other checks you can make but these will need to be considered on a case by case basis. The fact that payment methods like Western Union are not recommended could be irrelevant if you have a personal recommendation from someone you know about a property and those representing it. The reality is that fraudsters try to exploit normal day to day processes so something which is perfectly ok normally can be dangerous on other occasions.

Don’t worry, have a good time

As the number of vacation rental properties increases and it becomes easier to present and promote rental properties so unfortunately do the number of fraudsters trying to exploit the unwary. Booking a vacation rental property should not be risky and with a little care you should experience no problems. Often a few simple steps will ensure your vacation is a happy one.


Street Talk

Always someone trying to take others money. Great article Rob, thanks for the tips!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Just another example of the bad side of human nature. It is a small problem but growing hopefully the article will help someone. Thanks for reading....

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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