Rental property scams increase during the holidays

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) — Rental scams are common throughout the year, but during the holidays, with more people looking to rent a house or apartment for a vacation, you have to be careful where you're sending your money.

In the U.S., rental fraud has cost renters over $5 million. Though most of that money is from people looking for long-term rentals, vacation rental scams are also included.

"How it works is they take a legitimate property," Julie Wheeler, with the Better Business Bureau, said. "They'll list it on the ones you know, Airbnb or Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) sites, but then they immediately try to get you off that site for you to make payment or whatever reason. Now they've got the deposit and they don't even have access to the property."

In some cases, the BBB has found that scammers will reach out directly to the renter and convince them to deal one on one with the host for a discounted price, instead of going through the verified rental website.

"You've got to be real careful when you're doing those types of rentals and make sure that you stay on those sites that do provide those kinds of protections to you, so that you don't lose out on money," Wheeler said.

The BBB lists multiple ways cybercriminals will try to cheat you out of your vacation rental. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are scammers' typical stomping ground. But criminals are getting smarter and have even found ways to use verified rental sites.

"Yeah, it's a huge issue," Wheeler expressed.

Sometimes scammers hack into real hosts' private information and pretend to be the host to get money without giving a real reservation. Other times, scams will claim to be associated with a rental company like Airbnb or even create fake websites that mimic legitimate sites.

Wheeler said getting scammed can happen to anyone, but there are some key warnings to look out for.

"First of all if they are trying to get you off a legitimate site to do work," she said. "Like on the vacation ones, they're pretty stringent on their requirements and they will give you some guarantees if something goes wrong as long as all the transactions are handled through them."

And speaking of transactions, you'll know it's a scam if the host asks for payment in gift cards, money orders or even cash.

"If they want payment in anything other than a credit card where you can dispute it, that's a red flag," Wheeler said.

For more information about how to keep your family vacation safe from rental scams, visit the Better Business Bureau.