For many families, renting a vacation home beats hotels because it costs less yet offers more – more privacy, more kitchen, and a home-away-from-home atmosphere. However, a handful of Florida tourists – mainly travelers from outside the U.S. – have pre-paid for a vacation rental home only to discover on arrival that they’ve been scammed. The home they thought they rented is not only occupied, it’s not – and never was – a vacation rental.
The problem: The Internet made it easy for crooks to post attractive rent-this-home ads on websites such as Craigslist and even legitimate vacation-rental websites. To avoid problems, consider the following:
• Double-check any rental that has you work directly with a home’s owner. While most of these are legit, scammers don’t usually work through third parties. If a property management firm listed the home on behalf of a third-party owner, it’s probably okay. (Unless, of course, this is a scam on a truly massive scale.)
• Double-check the website that ran the vacation home ad. A lot of independent websites act as a clearing house for rentals, and some are better than others. Look for guarantees. Do a separate web search to see if anyone posted complaints about the website.
• Be wary of rental offers that demand cash or a certified check upfront. While a deposit or full payment is usually expected, scammers want untraceable money. If possible, pay by credit card.
• Check ownership of the home. Most Florida counties have a website that lists ownership info. Go to the county property appraiser’s website and click on “property search.” You can then usually check by address or owner’s name. If the “owner” offering the property for rent has a different name than the owner listed on the property appraiser’s website, find out why. For a list of property appraisers in Florida, go to the state’s website at http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/property/appraisers.html. In the Disney area, four counties intersect, so you may need to check a map to determine whether the home you want to rent is in Orange County, Osceola County, Lake County, or Polk County.
• If considering a specific home, check the local Better Business Bureau. (In the Orlando area, it’s http://centralflorida.bbb.org.) Not all homes will be listed here, especially if the owner only has one or two rental properties. But if the BBB has complaints listed, find out why.