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Vacation rental scams: What you need to know

Florida attorney general has tips to avoid scams on vacation rentals

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida is a hot spot for vacation rentals and the state's top attorney wants you to be on your guard -- because scammers are hoping to take advantage.

Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert on Tuesday about a common vacation rental scam.

She said scammers either post online ads on sites, like Craigslist, for properties that aren't actually available to rent or they hijack real vacation listings and change the contact information.

That means when renters show up expecting to kick back and relax at the property they've booked, they're left out in the cold. Or worse, they come face-to-face with homeowners who had no idea their property was listed for rent.

Moody pointed out that the biggest red flag for these scams is when the person listing the ad demands immediate payment.

“With many families on spring break or planning summer vacations, this type of scam can be more common," Moody said. "Renters should be wary of fake rental properties to ensure they are not being scammed and that family vacations are not ruined.”

Moody gave some tips to help you avoid falling for one of these rental property scams:

  • Search for a reputable rental website that offers protection in the event of fraud or offers payment transfer options
  • Find websites that offer a payment portal, where money is held in escrow until the renter arrives at the property with keys in hand
  • Do not rely solely on email to contact the owner and be wary of foreign telephone numbers
  • Investigate the property and, if possible, visit the property before signing a contract or sending payment
  • Check to see if there are additional rental listings for the property under another owner’s name
  • Ask for additional photos. A legitimate owner or property manager can likely produce these with little difficulty, while a scammer is unlikely to have access to additional photos
  • Pay for a rental with a credit card, via PayPal or through a payment transfer option on the rental listing website, which makes it easier to dispute a fraudulent charge

Anyone who encounters a vacation rental scam should immediately report it to the Florida Attorney General’s Office by filing a complaint online at MyFloridaLegal.com or by calling 1-866-9NO-SCAM.  

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.