You’ve been looking forward to this all year. Finally, it is time to plan your vacation. Unfortunately though, thieves and scammers have been looking forward to this, too. Your well-deserved getaway is potentially someone else’s fast cash. With the convenience of online vacation planning comes the potential for theft and fraud. What can you do to protect yourself and make sure your vacation is the enjoyable experience it should be? Here are a few red flags to look for and tips to ensure your dream vacation does not turn into a waking nightmare.
Rent a Licensed, Managed Property
Many states require rental property owners to possess a business license. Recently, the city of Bainbridge Island, a popular vacation spot located in Puget Sound, announced a crackdown on rental owners who do not possess a license. Check the rental property laws in the area you want to visit and verify your rental of choice is in ordinance with the laws to avoid any hassles. Can you imagine showing up to get the keys for your rental only to find the property has been shut down by the city?
If possible, rent a property that is managed. Many vacation rentals are privately-owned condos that are part of larger residential complexes and have on-site management. Usually, these kinds of units are well maintained and are true to the advertisement on cost and appearance, which reduces the risk of being unpleasantly surprised.
Contact the Owners Directly
Ideally, you would be able to check out a rental property in person before beginning your stay there, but if you live in Ohio, and want to vacation in Washington, this just is not an option.
The next best thing is to research online. Check the property description and photos, but pay special attention to the customer reviews. Generally, these will give you a more realistic idea of what to expect. A few bad reviews are to be expected, but if many reviews express their dissatisfaction, that should send up a red flag.
Communicate with hosts directly. Email is fine, but calling to speak with them as well will give you a better opportunity to judge their credibility. Google them. There are many active phishing schemes intended to scam you, or even steal your identity, so the more you know about your host, the better off you will be.
Ask Direct Questions
Right off the bat, ask your hosts if they have the legal right to rent the property to you for the specified dates. Naturally, people may still be inclined to lie, but direct questions may reveal inconsistencies in their responses. If the hosts hesitate or seem offended by your questions, this could be an indication of dishonesty.
Ask if the property is currently under construction. Ask about the crime rate in the area. You may even want to ask questions for which you already know the answers to gauge not only the hosts’ integrity, but to also assess how much they personally know about the property and the area it is in.
Rent with a Credit Card
Credit cards offer mandated protections that can cover you if charges are unwarranted or illegitimate. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, the card issuer is required to remove any charge from your bill related to a product or service you paid for but did not receive. For these chargeback provisions though, you are required to notify the bank of the issue within 60 days of the appearance of the charge on your statement.
In regard to a vacation rental, a chargeback can only apply to severe cases and do not cover customer dissatisfaction, disappointment or inconvenience, but using a credit card will at least provided documentation for you to offer in case something goes wrong.
Your vacation should be a relaxing and seamless experience, and be a break from the hassles of everyday life, so be smart when planning. Following a few simple tips in advance could save you a world of disappointment when you get there.