BBB: Do your research before booking a vacation

Consumer Investigations

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As more and more people get vaccinated, more and more are also being bitten by the “travel bug” and are looking for a tranquil escape from the all-but normal past year we’ve had.

But the Better Business Bureau is urging those looking to getaway to do some research before booking a trip.

“Now that the states are opening up, people are getting their shots and feeling more comfortable traveling,” the Better Business Bureau’s Paula Fleming said.

A pre-pandemic study conducted by the BBB revealed 43% of potential travelers came across fake listings online, and more than 5 million people lost money by falling for rental schemes.

Fleming said she anticipates an uptick in rental schemes this summer because people with “cabin fever” won’t want to stay cooped up at home any longer.

She said vacation rental websites do their best to make sure all of the listings are legitimate, however, some still fall through the cracks on occasion.

“No business is 100% accurate and can be bulletproof from these scam artists,” Fleming said.

One way to spot a phony listing is by researching both the name of the person that’s renting the property and the address to ensure there aren’t any schemes associated with them. It will also confirm whether it is an “altered ad.”

“Scammers have been known to hijack honest-to-goodness real estate or rental properties,” Fleming said. “They simply change some of the text and claim to be the owner and then re-post those properties.”

Fleming said the posts scammers rip from can be found on social media or other sites. A reverse image search using the listing picture, as well as verifying the listing’s location, can help you ensure you’re getting exactly what you pay for.

“How do I know A, it’s a safe area, B, a legitimate rental property and C, that the pictures are accurate,” Fleming said. “Any picture can look beautiful and you get there and it’s a complete dump.”

Fleming said putting a deposit down on a listing is normal, but said a huge red flag is when you’re asked to wire money.

“Never wire money for a rental property, it’s extremely discouraged,” she said.

She also recommended getting into contact with the lister by calling or scheduling a face-to-face virtual meeting.

The BBB has several other tips for potential travelers on how to spot a rental scheme:

  • Look for reviews and ask for references. While you’re vetting hotels, travel companies, vacation rentals and more, don’t forget to check BBB.org and other online reviews. Look for photos and a variety of reviews. If the property or company you’re considering doesn’t have any online reviews, ask for references and call them. Again, listen for vague answers, which could indicate the reference is simply a friend of the scammer.
  • Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card. You should never pay for a vacation by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. These payments are the same as sending cash. Once you send the money, you have no way to get it back. That’s why scammers depend upon these forms of payment. Paying with a credit card is your best bet. If your trip ends up being a scam, you can dispute the charge and dramatically limit your liability.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Scammers lure in targets by guaranteeing an amazing trip at a very low price, so do your research. If the hotel, travel or tour you are considering is much cheaper than similar options, be suspicious.
  • Do some snooping. Check the website for links to the company’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts. Often, scam artists will link to Facebook.com instead of Facebook.com/THEIRCOMPANYNAME. If they do have social media accounts, check their activity and see if any other users have left reviews or voiced complaints. Also, look for typos and pixelated images. These mistakes are signs of a scammer, not a company that cares about their online presence.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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