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5 Vacation Rental Scam Red Flags to Watch For

You’ve spent hours sifting through hundreds of listings to find that perfect vacation rental for your next trip—but there’s a few precautions you should take before you book. Vacation rental scams are on the rise. Watch out for these five red flags and avoid becoming a victim the next time you travel. 

Requiring Payment on Another Platform

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You’ve sent a vacation rental owner a request to book their property, and they reply that they’d love to have you stay—but they want you to send the deposit via a money order, Zelle payment, or check. 

There’s a reason why someone would ask you to pay outside of the vacation rental platform, and it’s not a good one—it’s because they’re scamming you. Vacation rental platforms have built-in protections for buyers (and sellers) to prevent fraud. Instant payment options like Zelle don’t offer the same safeguards, and make it much harder to get money back. Never pay for a vacation rental outside of the platform you’re booking through, as you could be left without any recourse if the listing turns out to be a scam.

Messaging You to Cancel

Vacation rentals aren’t like hotels—if an issue arises with a property, you can’t just be moved to another room. Things to come up and vacation rental owners may need to cancel your booking. However, be wary of any message that asks you to cancel your trip (rather than the host initiating the cancellation). Vacation rental booking platforms will give you a full refund if your host cancels, but if a guest cancels a booking, they’re usually subject to a hefty penalty. 

A common scam involves a vacation rental owner messaging a guest at the last minute saying there’s an issue with the property and they can’t fulfill your booking or offer to move you to an inferior option. The owner is hoping that you’ll cancel the booking and they can pocket the fees. Instead, wait for the owner to cancel the booking on their end, or reach out to the vacation rental company directly to intervene. 

Fake Photos

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Does the property look too good to be true for the price tag? It could be a warning sign that the listing is fake. Many listings use altered or fake photos to entice people into booking, only to find out upon arrival that the property looks nothing like the photos.

To avoid falling victim, search the address of the home and view it on Google Maps to at least see the exterior. You can also see if any bad reviews or warnings associated with the address come up, in case the property has been listed (and banned from) other vacation rental sites. 

You can also run a reverse Google Image search to see if someone has stolen stock photos to use in their listing. Simply copy the images and paste them into Google Photos search to see where else on the internet the photos are used.

Fake Damage Fees

You took the trash out, stripped the bed, and even started a load of laundry as directed by the checkout instructions. But a few days later, you get a message from the vacation rental host claiming that you trashed the place or broke things and owe damage fees.

To protect yourself, take photos and videos of the vacation rental as soon as you check-in and before you check-out so that you’ll have evidence of the condition that you left the place in. 

Fake Vacation Rental Emails 

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Before you click on that email from the vacation rental company notifying you about a change in your reservation, stop and double check the sender. A common scam involves fraudsters sending out emails that appear to be from a legitimate vacation rental company in the hopes that they will trick you into giving up personal information.

Before clicking any links, always check the domain that an email was sent from. For example, Airbnb has a list of official Airbnb domains on their website—if an email address is not from one of those domains, it’s a scam. So watch out for email addresses that look legitimate (like but aren’t. 

Also, know that vacation rental companies won’t ask you for personal information (like credit card numbers) over email.

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