Thursday, February 3, 2011

Avoiding Apartment Rental Scams when Traveling

I am traveling in Italy this week checking out some apartments, but I read an article in the New York Times that I thought might interest you.  More on renting apartments to come!

I rent a lot of apartments when I travel in Europe, and I am fortunate that I have never been scammed.  But last week the New York Time's Frugal Traveler writes about being scammed on an apartment rental in London, and I think his tips are excellent for anyone considering renting a property while on the go.

Amongst the Frugal Traveler's wise words are:
"If it's too good to be true, it probably is."  This is true about so many travel situations, but particularly when renting an apartment or finding a hotel "deal."
"Always use a credit card."  Legitimate businesses take credit cards.  And credit card companies will often reimburse you if you have been scammed.  
Now, I do take exception to this in some countries.  In Italy, for example, many apartment owners will expect payment up front and in cash.  However, they don't expect this until you have arrived at the apartment, checked it out for yourself, and even settled in.  Some allow you a day or two to pay, depending on the length of your stay.  This isn't a scam (though you have to wonder how much of that income they are declaring on their taxes).  Generally Italians are reluctant to pay the fees associated with credit cards and prefer to do business with cash.  Other countries conduct business in much the same way.
"See if you can get someone on the phone."  This becomes easier and easier, too.  And it is a great way to check up on the legitimacy of a property.  
If you are still nervous about renting an apartment yourself, but want to go that route, you can also consider using a booking service.  Personally, for Italy I recommend Experience Italy.  They handle all of my group travel, and they do an excellent job (and I am in no way compensated for recommending them).  There are many other good services out there, too.  Generally you can expect to pay the booking service directly, and they will make the payments to the apartment owners for you, providing you with a voucher to give them when you check in.

Having said that, know that there are dastardly booking services out there, too.  Use the same screening tools that you would if you were renting the apartment yourself:  talk to someone on the phone, get a recommendation from someone else, pay with a credit card.  But remember, for every scam out there thousands of other honest, hard-working people are ready and willing to help make your travel experience a fantastic one.

Link Love:

Frugal Traveler: Burned! A London Vacation Rental Scam
Published: January 25, 2011
The Frugal Traveler found an apartment to rent in London -- great location, great price. All he had to do was wire payment up front. Guess what? No apartment. He's not alone in being scammed in vacation rentals. Advice on how not to join him.


Karen-Louise said...

I'm a rental property owner in Italy. There are many other methods of ensuring that the property is genuine, not just in Italy:

Most people contact owners via a listing site. These sites now have verification services to check that the property belongs to the owner.

Look for the date the owner joined the listing site.

Ring or write the nearest Tourist Office, certainly in Italy we must be registered with them and in order to do so, have provided certification. They will speak English.

Alternatively ask the owner for a copy of these documents.

Do a Google search on the property and owner, easy if the owner/s live on site, a bit less so if they don't.

Check that the info on their website matches that which they've used on the listings site/s. A good website with lots of photos and information is unlikely to be a fake.

Look for feedback on their ad or website and you can ask for verification of the feedback, they won't mind.

Ask the owner questions, if they are genuine they will be happy and able to assist.

As to payment, those with larger properties often accept credit cards. We however do not, because the cost. We use bank transfers but don't send payment till you are confident.

I would never suggest handing cash to an owner, even on arrival, they will not be declaring the payment and are not likely to have certification/permissions to rent.

The scams usually involve expensive properties in order for the scammer to amass a large sum before being caught.

Angela K. Nickerson said...

Karen-Louise, great comments! And lots of information there. It's always good to have owners like you weigh in.


Andrea said...

We encountered some fraudsters on Craigslist when looking for apartments in Sydney last year. If it's too good to be true it probably is. Luckily we recognized the ads to be fake, but I wonder how many people were duped.

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