Red flags to look for when booking your vacation rental

Tools like Google Lens can help independently verify the legitimacy of a vacation rental
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 12:23 PM CDT
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(InvestigateTV) — Revenue from vacation rentals is projected to top $19 billion in 2023, according to Statistica.

However, International Safety Expert Tracey Hawkins said some of that revenue could be going to criminals who create fake rental listings, made all the more compelling with the use of artificial intelligence.

“So, if I were a criminal, I can say hey—look at this beautiful property, send me the money if you want to rent it,” Hawkins explained. “Just like the Craigslist frauds – send me the money and you can rent this out.”

Hawkins said oftentimes these fake listings show places that don’t even exist, a con that’s become more and more prevalent, even on popular rental sites like Airbnb.

Hawkins had several tips to protect against fake listings:

  • Be wary of any owners who ask you to pay outside of the platform on which you found the listing
  • Verify that the property actually exists by using online tools like Google Lens
  • Be suspicious of any listing that seems too good to be true

Travelers are not the only potential victims of vacation real estate scams.

Last November, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against a company that allegedly bilked timeshare owners out of $90 million by promising to buy out their contracts.

Attorney Andrew Meyer with Finn Law Group advised timeshare owners to be cautious of scam artists posing as resellers who claim to have a buyer.

“You may get a telephone call, you may be the owner of a timeshare now and you get a telephone call from someone’s really hot to buy your timeshare interest,” Meyer said. “You’re thinking, I’ve been wanting to get rid of this thing for years. Be very cautious- people are getting scammed a lot because of this so called ‘resale.’”

Fraudsters use the urge to sell against homeowners by convincing them they have a buyer, according to Meyer. Then the scammers ask for closing costs, taxes, or other fees up front. Once the money is paid, the potential buyer disappears and the money vanishes.

Meyer said the bottom line for owners is to do their research, especially if contacted out of the blue by someone they don’t know. Research the company and make sure they are legitimate before sending any money or signing contracts.

Airbnb provided the following tips when booking:

Stay on Airbnb: Stay on Airbnb to book, pay and communicate to help ensure you’re protected by our secure processes and support policies. This includes our industry-leading free Aircover, which covers every booking made on our platform and provides guests with booking, check-in, and “get-what-you-booked” guarantees.

Read profiles and reviews: Before booking, read the Host’s profile and listing description thoroughly, and check the ratings and reviews from previous guests. You can also use our messaging service to ask a Host any questions about their space ahead of booking.

Check the website link: Before paying, make sure you’re on the Airbnb website -, or use the Airbnb app. We provide tips on how to identify a genuine Airbnb link or email. If anyone thinks they’ve encountered a fake website designed to look like Airbnb, we ask that theyreport it to us for investigation.

Report concerns to us: In the rare event anyone asks you to go off site or you believe you’ve encountered a fake listing, report it to us. A ‘report’ feature is visible on every listing profile and in message threads, and our Community Support team is on hand 24/7 to help by phone, in-app, via our online Help Center, and on Twitter @AirbnbHelp.