The sharing economy brings opportunity
Have you ever searched Craigslist for vacation rentals?
Everyone loves a bargain, of course. But no one likes getting scammed.
Scams have become more common within the vacation rental industry.
As part of the sharing economy, the vacation rental industry attracts owners and customers, and, unfortunately, criminals as well.
The reason? Typically, vacation rentals involve a lot of money transferred between strangers.
Criminals don’t use large listing sites like AirBnB, VRBO and (its parent company Homeaway) because those companies have safeguards to prevent fraud.
Also, criminals are good economists – those listing sites often charge subscription fees and high commissions.
So what site draws the most criminals for scamming vacation renters? Craigslist.
Craigslist doesn’t verify the property owners’ identity. It doesn’t verify who owns the property. And it’s free to advertise on Craigslist.
On Craigslist, anyone can post a classified advertisement, whether genuine or criminal.
So we cannot stress this enough: Never rent a vacation rental through Craigslist!
Anatomy of a Craigslist scam
Here’s how the criminal’s scam works:
- The scammer copies the property photographs and description from VRBO.
- The fake ad gets posted on Craigslist.
- The scammer creates a fake identity and email (in the Finger Lakes, these scammers post from NYC)
- The scammer advertises a price too good to believe, often advertising “pet-friendly” on Craigslist when the real owners actually prohibit pets on the genuine VRBO website
- The potential rental guests take the bait and contacts the scammer
- The scammer instructs the guests how to send the first payment and agrees to collect the balance upon arrival, but never appears.
- The guests arrive at the destination, only to learn they’ve been scammed when the scammer doesn’t appear – content to have the large first payment.
After the crime occurs, local police will take a report, but because the scammers operate in a different jurisdiction, this accomplishes nothing. Again, scammers are good economists and calculate that they have a low chance of getting caught.
Do your due diligence
With so many scammers out there, how do you know whether you’re dealing with an honest owner over the Internet? You should ask the following questions:
First, is the vacation property listed on sites like VRBO/Homeway (we’re VRBO #423409). We no longer list on AirBnB because we found that AirBnB’s business model applied more to very short-term weekend rentals (especially in urban settings) instead of the weekly rental focus of VRBO.
Second, do the property owners have a private website for their listing (like this one)?
Third, can the property owners answer your questions about the Finger Lakes, and Canandaigua in specific? Can they even pronounce “Canandaigua?”
Fourth, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to a scam just by choosing to avoid Craigslist when booking your vacation rental.
When it comes to vacation rentals, you should always apply the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.”
So if we make just one point in this post, it’s this: “Don’t use Craigslist for vacation rentals – ever.“