Fraud on listing sites like VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, Tripadvisor, etc. is on the rise and vacationers should be made aware of what’s going on. As the listing sites move communication between guests and owners to go only through their booking site interface, it has provided scammers an easy way to hide behind the wall of listing site secrecy. The listing sites are requiring all communication within their site so that they can require travelers to pay their booking fees. Their claim is “it’s for your own protection”, but they are also collecting fees (6 to15 percent) and your email – which can be sold to 3rd parties. The problem with travelers not being able to truly speak to or email an owner directly is one of trust. The traveler needs to hear a real voice on the other end, or be able to search for an owner’s large web presence – a main Vacation Rental website, Facebook page for their VR, Google Plus page for their VR, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. (No scammer is going to take the time to create all that!) Travelers that like to speak to another human are no able to do so in the pre-booking process on the major listing sites. The phone numbers or contact info isn’t available until AFTER you have paid your money. How does that protect you??? A traveler would be best protected from scams if they could talk to the owner BEFORE paying any money to a listing site!
It didn’t use to be like this. Most listing sites, since their inception, (except Airbnb) were all about linking together an owner and a traveler so they could have discussions and get comfortable with each other before any money changed hands. Owners paid money to be advertised (listed) on the listing sites and travelers found them there. Airbnb came along with a different model of charging the owner a percentage of the booking AND charging the renter too. With a lot of PR and advertising, Airbnb became successful in their original room renting model and then ended up morphing into a vacation rental website. All of the original vacation rental listing sites now had a new competitor, and that new competitor had just shown them that renters will pay extra unnecessary fees. Now ALL the listing sites have mimicked Airbnb’s business model. By moving to the closed communication system, it’s easier for scammers to target travelers. The scam of course being that you rented a house that doesn’t exist or isn’t even a vacation rental. Imagine after a long day of travel trying to open the front door to someone’s house they live in, or driving back and forth down the road looking for an address number that doesn’t exist.
Currently, it is extremely easy for anyone to set up a vacation rental listing on most sites, mainly because the sites are so eager to increase the amount of places listed on their site. 10 years ago you had to PROVE you owned the house you were listing; submitting tax records with your name shown, utility bills, current insurance, etc. – all with a valid photo ID that matched these records. Not anymore. Now on Airbnb all you need is a Facebook account and a drivers license (which could be fake since they aren’t checking it against anything else), and surely nobody believes that all Facebook accounts are real! But, on Airbnb, you are “verified” with just these 2 items! It’s no wonder traveler scams are exploding. VRBO and all the others are not much different now either. The best way for travelers to have security in knowing who and what they are renting is going direct to the owner –the way it used to be. We as owners are sickened by what is currently unfolding in our industry and are trying to help owners and travelers continue to have a happy and mutually beneficial relationship without interference from the listing sites and scammers.
Options for travelers to use:
Do a Google search for “vacation rental” and the city, town or islands you wish to visit. Breeze past the first 3 or 4 pages since they will be clogged up with advertisements and paid listings. A lot of the top hits will be paid for by the major listing sites themselves – just what you are trying to get past.
Do a Google search for local rental agencies in the place you wish to travel. They won’t have any scam listings since they are smaller and run by a local who has visited the house or condo. You can feel secure about not getting scammed here. You might could figure out the name of the house or owner or address and find them directly?
Use the listing sites like VRBO or Airbnb to search for your perfect vacation spot, but then skip contacting the owner there because he won’t be able to send you his phone number anyway. (the listing site system will block it out) – besides, you don’t want to give up your email to the listing site to spam you and then later sell it off. He may have clues in the listing as to what his main website name is or he may have snuck his own name in on the listing. He may be calling his house something and you could Google the name of the house and the area or island it is on.
Copy a few of the first sentences in the VRBO or Airbnb listing and paste it in a Google search, most owners use the same verbiage on all their listings including their main website.
Using the Google Chrome browser (as opposed to Safari or Explorer) you can do a picture search. Find a rental you like on the listing sites and right click one of the pictures, a window will come up giving you options – pick “search image in Google”. Most owners use all the same perfect photos of their house on the listing sites as well as their main vacation rental website.
There you have it, you have now found the owner directly, spoken with, and rented your perfect vacation rental without fear of being scammed. (and probably saved a few hundred dollars by skipping the middle man too!) Thank you for passing the word on to friends and family. Share on your page to REALLY get the word out! You aren’t able to share from this sale site, but go to my page and there is a sharable version there.
Four Exceptional Cabin Rentals
Pat and Don Kirchhoefer, owners