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Online Vacation Rental Fraud Widespread, Better Business Bureau Says

More than 5 million consumers have lost money to online property-rental scams, according to a new report by the Better Business Bureau. (Adobe Stock)
More than 5 million consumers have lost money to online property-rental scams, according to a new report by the Better Business Bureau. (Adobe Stock)
December 16, 2019

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fraud is widespread in the online vacation rental market, according to a new report by the Better Business Bureau. The study found nearly 43% of consumers have encountered a bogus listing.

Nancy Crawford, director of marketing and communications at the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, said the internet has opened the floodgates for scammers, so shoppers need to be savvy.

"There's so much fraud in today's world. About 26 million Americans are defrauded by some type of scam every year,” Crawford said. “It's a multi-billion-dollar industry, and it is big business."

The Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker received more than 1,300 reports of rental fraud from 2016 to 2019. The report noted fake rentals turn up on vacation rental sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.com, despite these companies' efforts to weed out scam listings.

Crawford said fraudsters most often copy a photo and description of a property, post it online with their own contact information, and then try to get a deposit from the victim.

"Doing some research ahead of time and finding out what typical properties in that area usually rent for will give you some information so that you don't land on a listing that's half the price of everything else, and you think, 'Oh, great, this is a great deal,' and then end up going on vacation and having nowhere to stay,” she said.

According to the report, renters may find websites that are actually cloned copies of Airbnb's website. Airbnb warns travelers that scammers tend to exploit popular events, such as the Super Bowl, when hotels may be booked.

"With 43% of online shoppers encountering a fake listing, and more than 5 million consumers losing money to these kinds of scams,” Crawford said.

She added victims of a suspected property-rental scam should immediately file a report with the local police and file a complaint or report a scam to the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN