Scam Vacation Rental Inquires: Avoid Getting Caught in Their Game

Erin Colbert —  October 19, 2012

Check Overpayment ScamThe email scam artists currently targeting vacation rental owners seem to have taken notes from the ‘Nigerian Prince’ fraudsters who’ve been around for decades. Maybe not as obvious, fraudulent inquiries on your rental property are likely to show up in your inbox. They will sound just as friendly as any legitimate inquiry, so take a look at these red flags:

  • Poor grammar and punctuation, plus bad spacing and line breaks. Especially when the request is coming from another country, this may seem normal. But the scammer may be pre-screening your patience level and naïveté.
  • Discrepancies about your rental property, such as calling your cabin an apartment suggest mass email.
  • Claims the trip is a surprise for someone else or a honeymoon. Generates warmth, creates distance.
  • Specifies dates then says they’re flexible. Or requests an extended stay, especially off-season for your location.
  • Inquiry comes from the UK or from a free email service, particularly Gmail, which is harder to trace.

Doesn’t really scream vacation rental scam, does it? Alone, these and other red flags are not enough to turn away renters. For example, check out this email from FindRentals.com:

—– Original Message —–

From: “David Long” dldldavidlong@gmail.com

Subject: FindRentals.com Inquiry

Hello, I am planning a 7 nights honeymoon vacation with my wife.I will like to know if we can use your place for 7 nights in march 1st to 7th. Let me know the cost and the deposit to be made.I will also like to know the amenities attached to the property.

We do not smoke nor drink neither do we have pets. Are you the owner or an agent?

Regards
David Long

Sounds nice enough despite the red flags. But why do we need to know that he doesn’t drink? Too much information is another signal. Here’s the follow-up—and the catch to the scam:

Hello,

How are you today?I am glad top inform you that the payment has just been mailed out,how ever,there was a mistake on the check sent to you by my wife’s employer who is taking all our honeymoon expenses as a gift,He thought you are also in charges of our traveling arrangement,We have contact the traveling agency notifying them about this mistake and they said their funds should get to them before they complete our traveling arrangement,so all you need to do is,As soon as you received the check you will deduct the full total of our rent and send the remainder to them via western union.We will send you the details you will be needing in order to get the funds to them when the check gets to you.and we will email you our traveling arrangement as soon as we complete this with them.We hope you understand this and we can count on you regarding the traveling agency funds?Kindly get back to us..we are more than worried.

Thank you for your kindness toward making our honeymoon a successful one.we so much appreciate your effort.

David Long

The scam artist will eventually claim to have overpaid you. They may even get aggressive and insist that you wire them a refund or face legal action. Unlike phishing, where the scammer attempts to gain access to your email address, it’s not the communication that will get you into trouble, it’s the payment stage.

If you find yourself a victim of this type of vacation rental fraud, take one or more of the following steps:

  • Cancel the payment and insist on an exact amount.
  • Check with your bank: the funds may appear before the fraudulent check is detected. Sometimes it can take up to a month.
  • Refuse to wire money to Western Union or MoneyGram. The funds cannot be canceled, retrieved or traced.
  • Be firm about your payment policies.

There are many possible scam emails. Don’t hesitate to trust your gut if something seems off, but also stay open. The majority of renters—from the U.S. and abroad—are genuinely interested in a wonderful stay at your property. Decisive action towards scammers will generally send them running.

photo credit: Sarah Gilbert

Erin Colbert

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Marketing at MyVR.com. I help vacation rental owners improve their online marketing efforts and get more inquiries & bookings as a result. You can find me on Twitter and Google+.
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One response to Scam Vacation Rental Inquires: Avoid Getting Caught in Their Game

  1. This did happen to me. They were from Japan in the service and having their accountant send a check. Basically the same except I did not receive a check and gave them a 7 day notice of cancellation. They never responded so I cancelled. Thank you for letting me know what to look for in the future.