State Office of Consumer Affairs Advises Consumers: Don’t Get Scammed When Renting a Vacation Home
BOSTON – As Massachusetts kicks-off the start of summer vacation season, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is reminding consumers to be on the lookout for scams while searching for vacation home rentals. The online vacation home market is located largely on Internet classifieds websites and popular travel websites. Potentially fraudulent listings can be placed on these websites and consumers should be aware of how to spot a scam.
“Consumers should scrutinize all online vacation home listings. While there are many legitimate deals to find online, don’t be captivated by low-priced rentals with beautiful photographs,” said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. “Consumers save all year for their summer vacations. If you don’t do your homework, you could find yourself in a stressful situation that could have easily been prevented by reading the fine print and recognizing the red flags.”
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offers the following tips for consumers thinking about renting a vacation property this summer:
- Research and compare rentals: Use legitimate listing websites – such as TripAdvisor, VRBO, and Airbnb – to start your search. If you see a property advertised online, consider where the ad was posted. Online classifieds websites are popular with scam artists who may copy the pictures and description of a legitimate rental home ad and then ask for payment in advance. Use Google’s reverse image search to check if an advertisement’s pictures were stolen from elsewhere. Go to images.google.com and click on the camera button in the search bar. If an image appears from another website or rental listing, that ad may have been a scam.
- Make sure the property is real: Use Google Maps or your smartphone’s maps app to check the satellite photos of the rental home. You will be able to check that it is a real location and will be able to familiarize yourself with its surroundings. You can also contact the local Registry of Deeds to find out more information on the history of the property.
- Use a licensed realtor: It is safer to rent from a reputable rental business or realtor than an individual renter. If you decide to rent through a realtor, use the Division of Professional Licensure’s Check a License tool to see the status and history of their realtor’s license. Ask friends or family for references while you search for a rental home. When you have a few options lined up, look up the renter or the agency online, checking for reviews or complaints. Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the Attorney General’s Office, or the Better Business Bureau to see if there is a history of complaints.
- Inspect the property: If you can visit the property in person, check for cleanliness and make sure that everything works as it should. Flip light switches, check that the toilet flushes and look for leaks. If you are unable to visit the property personally, ask for detailed photos of each room. Check the pictures for evidence of damage or unsanitary conditions. Ask the homeowner or realtor for a condition statement on the property so you will not be held responsible for any damage that existed before your stay.
- Do not make advanced payments: Do not pay in full or put money down until you have carefully read and understood the rental agreement. There will likely be complicated terms and conditions involved. Do not hesitate to ask the property owner about any terms that you are unsure of. Never pay for a rental home through a money wire service, as this is a likely indicator of a fraud. If possible, pay with a credit card, which will provide some consumer protection if there is a dispute with the owner of the rental home.
- Get everything in writing: Make sure to always have a signed agreement, no matter how brief your stay. Make sure all verbal agreements are included in the rental contract including details about deposits, rules on pets, refunds, and what is included in the cost of the rental such as utilities, internet, cable service and trash removal. In Massachusetts, landlord-tenant laws related to security deposits are not applicable to rentals of vacation properties for less than 120 days, so be sure to find out what happens to your security deposit in case of claimed damage to the property.
- Report scams: If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, contact the local police department and inform them of what has happened. They may be able to help you to pursue the person who advertised the property. If you paid with a credit card, contact your credit card company’s fraud protection services and see if you can recover any funds. Finally, report the scam listing to the website where it was posted. The operator of the website will be able to remove the listing and protect other consumers.
The Patrick Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Visit the Office’s website at www.mass.gov/consumer. Follow the Office at its blog, on Facebook and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.