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It’s true. You can find excellent vacation rentals on Craigslist — but that isn’t without running a risk of falling into one of the many vacation rental scams. There are millions of vacation rental properties listed on Craigslist yearly and you can often find short term rentals for great prices. Listings on Craigslist range from cheap vacation rentals, through to house swaps, and longer term rentals. In recent years, however, fraudulent groups have stolen millions of dollars through fake listings.
So are Craigslist vacation rentals safe? Here’s our take on it, and some tips to help you avoid being caught by fraudulent Craigslist scams.
Internet crooks have been using fake listings as a way to rake in cash from oblivious vacationers. Often, these scammers create fake listings on platforms such as Craigslist, which isn’t regulated in the same way as official home rental sites. A fake listing can be easily created. Scammers just have to upload photos that have normally been stolen from an official home rental site, copy over a blurb of text, offer an enticingly low price to draw you in, and ask for security deposits to be directly transferred to them. It’s a vacationer’s worst nightmare — imagine turning up at your home rental to find out that it doesn’t exist or that you have no booking there and the real owner of the property is completely unaware. Recent figures suggest that in 2017 55 million bookings were made through rogue agents and millions of dollars were stolen. Are you worried that you might fall into the trap? Here are some top tips.
A Case of ‘It’s Too Good To Be True’
If you see a deal on Craigslist that is an incredibly low price, or a suspiciously good bargain, it’s probably too good to be true. Treat great deals with suspicion. Ask yourself why the price is so low. Is it to entice oblivious vacationers? Or is it genuinely a low price as the owner really wants to fill space. Do your research. If you’re looking to rent a beachside cottage with two rooms in Maine, how much are similar properties of roughly the same size and location being rented for elsewhere? Check average prices by browsing other vacation rental sites.
Check the Phone Number
Before sending over any form of payment (whether it’s a rental deposit, security deposit, or some other form of money exchange), give the number a ring and have a chat with the owner. This can help put your mind at ease — and you instantly know you’ll have a point of contact if needs be. If the listing doesn’t include a phone number, contact the person responsible for the listing through Craigslist and ask them if you can speak on the phone. You could also ask for a second way to contact the host — e.g their personal email account — just in case you run into difficulties and can’t get hold of them via phone. If they don’t want to speak to you it should raise a red flag.
Ask the Owner for Extra Photos
Asking the owner to send you extra photos is a great way of checking if the property listing is real. A real owner should have more photos available or be able to easily get hold of extra photos for you. You can also try to find the property through other home rental sites, such as Airbnb or HomeAway, and check how many photos have been uploaded on those specific websites.
Generally, a good advertisement will have plenty of photos. If you see a vacation rental listing on Craigslist with blurry photos it should raise concern as it’s possible the pictures have been copied over from an original listing on another vacation rental site.
Ask the Owner Specific Questions
A good tip is to write to the owner asking specific questions about the area. Where are the best restaurants, and can they recommend a restaurant in particular? What’s parking like in the area? A genuine owner will be able to answer these questions easily and quickly.
Be Careful When Sending Money
As Craigslist is not an official vacation rental platform, owners can normally ask for a deposit and/or a security deposit to be directly transferred to them through Western Union, Paypal, or other money-sending platforms. Only send money if you feel confident that you are genuinely speaking with the owners of the property or the agency in charge of the property. If you are sending money you should use a credit card as it offers an extra layer of protection if things go wrong. Using a debit card is strongly advised against as it could give scammers access to your bank account.
Using official home rental platforms such as Airbnb or HomeAway, see what other similar listings are asking for as a security deposit. Check this against what you are being asked to pay by the owner on Craigslist to see if it’s similar. From New York to Georgia, each state in the US has its own security deposit laws. Read up on the individual law of the state and make sure this is what the owner is asking for.
Verify the Property
Another way of verifying the property is to ask for the exact address of the rental and check it out on Google Map street view. You can see if the property actually exists and if it looks similar to the photos you’ve already seen on the listing.
Any reputable vacation rental owner who knows their stuff, or a contracted agency, should be able to provide you with a rental agreement. This agreement will lay out the terms and conditions of the rental, the amount you’ll be paying, security deposit, and other official details. If the owner of the Craigslist post says they don’t have an official rental agreement, ask them to draw one up. You should only rent a property on Craigslist with a rental agreement.
There’s no harm in doing a spot of internet stalking to verify if the owner is a real person or not. Check on Facebook or other social media platforms to see if you can find the owner. If found, do not contact them through social media — that would be creepy — but at least you can see they are a real person, and not a scammer.
So are Craigslist vacation rentals safe? Yes and No. It’s true, you can find excellent deals, but you have to do your research to make sure you’re not being scammed. We think it’s easier to use an official vacation rental platform like AllTheRooms that’s much better regulated than a site like Craigslist.