After contending with soaring plane fares, crowded airports and any lingering COVID fears, the last thing you need is to arrive at your dreamy vacation rental only to find another family occupying it.
Scammers are in summer mode now, as one Albuquerque woman learned recently from a potential customer who spotted her short-term rental home on Craigslist.
The thing is, the owner doesn’t advertise on Craigslist; instead, she lists the Downtown-area rental on VRBO, or “Vacation Rentals by Owner.” It’s similar to Airbnb, but focuses on single-family homes rather than shared spaces.
A thief had stolen interior and exterior shots of the property from the VRBO site, along with details about the home, and posted everything on Craigslist. The listing included the name of the real owner, but the scammer claimed the owner had just sold the property to him and he was now in charge.
The potential customer was lured in by the pretty photos, but he became suspicious when the thief wanted him to send a deposit by wire to hold the reservation. When you wire money to someone, there is no way to get it back, even if you have been ripped off.
Short-term rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb require payments through their platforms and not through outside channels.
The wise customer tracked down the real owner and called her, informing her about the unauthorized Craigslist posting.
In this case, the customer thwarted the thievery and lost no money, but plenty of others have. An FBI report shows the agency received 11,000 complaints about rental-related and real estate scams last year.
Here’s what to know:
• Make payments only through the official listing site. That way, you have more assurance the listing is legitimate, and you might be able to get a refund if you are later defrauded.
• Never make a payment by wire transfer or a money transfer service such as Western Union, Money Gram, Zelle, CashApp or Venmo.
• Be cautious about listings that are new and have no reviews or several reviews that repeat the same phrases. Grainy photos could indicate they were pulled from elsewhere as a screen shot.
• You can check to see whether photos have been stolen from another website by using a reverse image search.
• Make sure the host has a valid address and phone number.
• Communicate only through the listing site before booking. Same goes when it comes time to make the reservation. Don’t provide your email address or phone number to the host before your booking is accepted.
STUDENT LOAN SCAM: Now that the pause on student loan repayments has been extended to Aug. 31, beware of unexpected offers of financial help that are designed to defraud you.
A common scam involves a bogus company charging for help in finding financial assistance but never delivering the services.
“You never have to pay for help with your federal financial aid or student loans,” says the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, contact your loan servicer directly for free information about lowering monthly payments or changing a repayment plan.
Red flags should go up if you are told: You need to act immediately before a program is discontinued; “Your student loan is flagged for forgiveness pending verification. Call now;” or “Your student loans may qualify for complete discharge.”
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or 505-823-3805 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.