Scams target travel bargain-hunters

Attorney General Linda Kelly today cautioned consumers, both travelers and property owners, to be on the lookout for scams that are linked to summer vacation rentals and vacations.

"Internet sites, like Craigslist, or other online classified ads, are a popular place for consumers searching for last-minute rental bargains or homeowners who are hoping to earn more rental income during the summer vacation season," Kelly said in a news release. "Unfortunately, these websites are also popular with scam artists looking to lure unsuspecting consumers into their traps."

Scammers will structure their ads in a way that forces consumers to respond quickly and often ask that rental payments be wire-transferred in order to guarantee reservations, Kelly said. She noted that consumers who own vacation homes can also be targeted by these schemes. Scam artists will often look for victims who are advertising items online and then "accidentally" send a check for an amount that is larger than necessary. Scammers then send the homeowner a request to use a wire-transfer to return the excess money. Kelly said that it can take a week or more for banks to identify counterfeit checks or money orders. Unsuspecting consumers who fall for these schemes eventually learn that the rental checks they received are worthless, but not before they have transferred hundreds or thousands of dollars to the scammers.

Consumers should also be suspicious of vacation home listings that request detailed personal data, such as social security numbers or bank account information - supposedly to verify your "credit worthiness" as a renter. In reality, these listings are a type of "phishing" scheme, used by identity thieves to steal personal information.

Kelly encouraged consumers who are searching for rental properties to consider the following tips before completing a transaction: get the details about the transaction in writing, preferably in the form of a contract; ask for references from past renters; speak to the owners/managers on the telephone instead of exclusively through email; and check with the Better Business Bureau for possible complaints against the owner or rental company. When possible, pay with a credit card, she said.
Property owners should be suspicious of inquiries with obvious mistakes regarding your property, like asking about your beautiful condo when you are offering a cabin; beware of offers to send you more than the price you are seeking with a request that you wire or return a portion of the money; question offers that give more information than a typical traveler would reveal, such as drawn-out reasons for the rental - like family issues or medical problems; and be wary of inquiries that don’t seem interested in details about the property, such as condition or location.

If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is, Kelly said, adding that using well-known travel guides or travel agents and confirming reservations can also help travelers avoid being victimized.

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