The simple and convenient use of online vacation rental Web sites is on the rise and has become the new norm for many people planning a trip. Vacation lodging is being reserved through computers and smart phones, on commuter rails and lunch breaks, and while watching the kid’s soccer game. Unfortunately, vacation-rental-scams are also on the rise. Sadly, the scams are proliferating and horror stories are surfacing from consumers who were unaware. The last thing anyone wants to worry about is being scammed on vacation.
Also, more and more vacationers are choosing the ease and comfort of staying in a vacation rental home rather than in a hotel when they travel to a resort. The hustles and bustles of a hotel aren’t always the most relaxing, the cost can be quite a bit higher and the creature comforts are missing. The advantages to vacation home and cabin rentals over individual hotel rooms are many, with the larger space, improved privacy and shared living areas making this choice preferred by numerous travelers. However, booking these homes online through a private party can be risky for the renter.
According to an August 2010 leading travel industry article by Tnooz, “Industry studies show that the overwhelming majority of travelers (up to 80%) select their accommodation through the Internet, and over 50% end up booking online.”
Most vacation rental Web sites are trustworthy. As one California resort reservation booking company pointed out, “working with a local and professional vacation rental Web-based business helps avoid the rip-off and the enticing to-good-to-be-true advertisements that are found on Craigslist, Backpages.com, larger national sites, or other Web sites where fraudulent perpetrators lie.”
So how can the public tell the good guys from the bad guys? Not all rental scams are that obvious. Here are several important characteristics to look for when deciding on which online vacation rental business to use and choosing the right property:
- Is the vacation rental Web site locally or regionally-based? Real businesses have real local or regional addresses. Google their address. The vacation property itself should have an address for Google Maps verification. If it doesn’t ask a telephone agent for it. Then Google it.
- Does the Web site business have a working phone number? Call them and talk to them, or notice how soon they return any messages left. Real businesses have real professional and knowledgeable employees who provide quality information. They also use a consistent email address in their correspondence. The email address should be the same as the domain name, not a “free” email box from Yahoo, MSN, AOL or Gmail.
- Do they have a high quality and currently dated Web site? Real businesses have their name the same as their Web site address (the URL). When they have good, original content on their site, such as “local activities to do”, this helps to prove their credibility.
- When was the business started? Do they have a trademark and a business license? If they don’t provide this, do not do business with them. This is public information; you can find it easily with a search.
- Are the photos of the vacation rentals really theirs? If the photo has a watermark on it that is NOT the same as their URL, these guys might be bogus. Fake sites steal photos from legitimate Web sites.
- What is their payment system? Credit cards are the absolutely safest way to go, offering protection through disputed charges if something goes astray. If they want, cash, wire transfers, money orders or a personal check written to their first name, run the other way.
- 24-hour service is important. Does this company/person have a local representative that is within an hour of any service call? What happens if the heat goes out in a snow storm? Often when renting direct with an owner there is no 24/7 service which is how they compete to keep the price down. Why ruin your vacation?
We found a couple of good ones that are inter-related in Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes Reservations and Guest Services seems to is creditable. There is a small site called Mammoth Luxury Rentals that has gorgeous vacation rentals. Any online business is potentially susceptible to being a fraud when money and “products” are exchanged through a virtual format. Dealing with a fraudulent vacation rental “business” is like going to a car dealer that sells you a lemon – it looks really good at the dealer but turns into a nightmare on the road. A “buyer” should use the same smart due diligence with an online vacation rental Web site. This way they will get what they paid for and be spared a vacation disaster. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.