The home-sharing economy is heating up. Inevitably, more and more of us have been getting fleeced on fake Keys vacation rentals. The worst rip-offs seduce would-be vacationers with fabulous pictures of fictitious properties. Once the renter is hooked, the phony landlord collects an up-front “security deposit” and runs for the hills. Victims are left unaware they’ve been cheated until weeks later, when they show up at the address with their luggage in hand.
Other variations on the scam are only slightly less fraudulent. Some fakes use the bait-and-switch method by showing unavailable properties, only to divert the renter to another, less desirable spot. Other tricksters may double-book a property, then send whichever vacationers arrives last to a second-rate backup, along with sincere apologies.
This information isn’t given to scare you away but to convince you to take every precaution. So how do you protect yourself? Here’s a list of ways to combat this scam:
Don’t be fooled by photography. In particular, be wary of the nicest-looking, most Photoshopped property photos. Ask the owner for additional photos — an honest lessor will always have them. Or ask your agent to use technology like FaceTime or Skype to show you the property live. At the very least, use Google Earth and Google’s Street View feature to confirm that the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised. You can also use those Google tools to get an unvarnished look at the property’s exterior.
Be careful of the cheapest properties. If prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. If you don’t have a feel for what a reasonable price is in an area, get one. Scammers often go after people who aren’t that savvy. And drive a hard bargain — not just to get a better deal, but also to detect odd behavior from the other party.
Never pay with cash. The preferred methods of payment among criminals are cash and cash-transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union. Use a credit card instead — Visa, MasterCard and American Express will all allow you to recover money you lose to fraud. Reputable sites will hold your security funds in escrow. They play middleman, making sure you’ve put the funds in place before you get keys. (Some portals offer insurance against fraud — but it’s expensive and may not cover much; read the policy closely.)
Use a trusted local agent. Yes, you should expect to pay them. But they can show you bona fide listings or go look at the properties that you’ve seen on the Internet for you. Be sure to check their license.
Confirm legitimacy. For ownership and all documents, confirm that the owner’s name on the lease is the same as the one shown on public property appraiser records. Then have a lawyer review the lease, just like you would a full-year agreement.
Read the comments. The feedback from previous renters that appears on sites is invaluable. And in some cases, you’re even allowed to pose questions to other users.
Trust your instincts. If you apply some skepticism to the process, you’re more likely to see red flags. You’re also more likely to catch suspicious behavior. Take your time. No need to rush. For long vacations, consider going ahead of time to check out the property, or not renting a house for the first week — stay at a hotel for a few nights. It will give you an opportunity to see the property you’re renting in person before turning over your security deposit.
Be a regular. If you rent a home you like, stick with it. You’ll develop a relationship with the owner if you go back to the same place year in, year out — and avoid the risk of being scammed on a new property. If you’re traveling to a new place, try to find a friend who lives there and will give you honest feedback on potential rentals, good neighborhoods, etc.
Beware groupthink. If you’re vacationing with a half-dozen other people, everybody tends to figure that somebody else is paying attention to the details and making sure the group isn’t getting ripped off. Then, when the amazing six-bedroom place you all rented together is nowhere to be found and your security deposit evaporates, everybody’s pointing fingers.
Now you are probably ready – check out this site for some Florida Keys Vacation Rentals.