Whether you’re a vacationer searching for a rental home for a relaxing getaway, or a homeowner seeking a respectful renter, turning to Craigslist can be risky.
Even buying and selling ordinary items like furniture or lawn equipment can be dicey on Craigslist due to the prevalence of scammers and other criminals who troll ads looking for targets.
But when it comes to vacation homes, the stakes get higher and the risks are bigger. First, vacation rentals can cost $1,000 or more per stay, so large dollar amounts are changing hands. Second, both guests and property owners are trusting each other with their personal safety or the safety of their property.
Rental scams are prevalent on Craigslist, says Sarasota, Florida real estate agent Chris Kernan, who had photos and information from a rental listing stolen by a Craigslist scammer who listed it at half the real price.
“Whether it’s a vacation rental or an annual rental, the scammer will offer the property for significantly lower than the going rate,” Kernan says. “Everyone who’s looking to rent says, ‘Wow what a deal.’”
The risks of booking a vacation rental on Craigslist
It’s easy to get sucked in by beautiful photos of vacation homes with too-good-to-be-true prices posted on Craigslist, says Britta Wagner, who owns two condos near Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
In fact, a few years ago Wagner found that scammers had hijacked photos of her condo and were listing it at $100 a night — half the going rate. One day, Wagner got a call from a woman who had just gone out shopping for beach towels and pool noodles and was wondering why she hadn’t received instructions for arrival.
It turned out the woman had fallen for the fake ad and had wired the crooks $1,000 for a stay at the condo. When Wagner informed the renter that she doesn’t advertise on Craigslist, the woman got very upset and told Wagner she and her husband had been planning the “vacation of a lifetime” for years.
“She was bawling,” Wagner says.
These scams are common, and they’re not the only danger renters face. Here are four risks of booking a vacation rental on Craigslist:
- 1. Getting your money stolen and your vacation ruined — The main risk of falling for a vacation rental scam is that you can be robbed hundreds or even thousands of dollars, along with your R&R. Thieves can easily create fake vacation home listings or hijack real ones and collect money from unsuspecting vacationers, according to personal finance expert Clark Howard. One bride and groom showed up at a Seattle home they’d rented on Craigslist for their wedding night only to find people already living there, Howard writes.Lower-than-market-value rental prices and requests to wire money are signs of a scam, Wagner says.
- 2. Becoming a victim of ID theft — Crooks also go phishing for personal details to commit ID theft, according to Scambusters.org. A crook posing as a vacation home owner can easily ask you to fill out a rental application with all your personal data, including your address, phone number, Social Security Number and credit card number. Instead of kicking back on a lounge chair, you get the stress of trying to recover your identity.
- 3. Staying in a second-rate space — You also could fall victim to a bait-and-switch scam. Even if a listing is legitimate, you could show up and find that adorable cabin advertised online is more of a rundown shack. Or, you may be told that the price is higher than promised. Then you face three choices: spend more money to book a hotel, head back home or stay and endure a less than pleasurable vacation.
- 4. Putting your personal safety at stake — If you rent a vacation home on Craigslist, there’s no official rental process or standards to help keep you safe. Remember that you’re trusting a stranger who has keys to the home where you’re staying.
The risks of renting out your vacation home on Craigslist
It’s not just vacationers who are at risk. Vacation rental owners also can fall victim to scams or other problems with listing on Craigslist. Here are four risks of listing your home on Craigslist:
- 1. Having your listing hijacked — As Wagner learned, photos and information about your home can be stolen even if you don’t list your place on Craigslist. But if you do create a listing, you’re pretty much asking for your property to be hijacked and, if that happens, you have little recourse. When Wagner’s property got hijacked, she contacted the local police and FBI. She also tried to contact Craigslist with no luck. Desperate, she posted warning ads daily for about two months. “Steer clear of Craigslist,” she warns.
- 2. Wasting your time — If you list your property on Craigslist, you may spend a lot of time dealing with what some in the business refer to as “junk replies” — that is, replies from scammers and renters who aren’t serious about closing the deal.
- 3. Falling victim to scams — Vacation rental owners can fall victim to another common Craigslist scam, a fake check scam. In this scam, a person posing as a renter would make an “accidental” overpayment of the amount they owe. After sending you a check, they’d request a refund of the amount they “overpaid.” After sending them the money, you’d learn their original check was fake. You lose the rental booking you were counting on along with a chunk of cash.
- 4. Damage to your home — Any rental home owner knows that damage to the home is a risk of doing business. In fact, Kernan says he’s had thoroughly screened tenants who cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. But you might run a bigger risk of having your place trashed if you advertise your vacation rental on Craigslist because the site tends to bring in low-quality renters in search of a bargain, according to Heather Bayer, who blogs about vacation rentals at CottageBlogger.com. In terms of hit-and-miss, these renters are “mostly misses,” she writes.
The rampant problems with scams on Craigslist, including vacation rental scams, have been well publicized, and Craigslist is certainly aware of these issues. Craigslist should take steps to stop vacation rental scams and keep renters and homeowners from becoming victims of the next Craigslist scammer.
Craigslist would better serve its customers and boost its credibility by showing scammers the door.
TurnKey values our partnership with distribution sites and the comprehensive guest screening that occurs every stay which assures both guest and homeowner that each party is legitimate. “At TurnKey, we never post our vacation homes on Craigslist. We only use verified, trustworthy listing sites. Our guests can have peace of mind knowing that our homes are exactly as represented,” says John Banczak, Co-founder of TurnKey Vacation Rentals. If you ever see a TurnKey home on Craigslist, please let us know immediately.