Vacation rental from an owner--is this a scam?
August 4, 2010 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I decided to try vacation rentals from an owner for an upcoming trip, but am now getting cold feet about being scammed.

I've been looking at 3rd party sites too, but the one I want to rent is on Craigslist. I chalked up the title to English-as-a-2nd language, and the pictures to a nice camera, until I got the email, and now I'm getting cold feet about sending a security deposit (which I understand being necessary) and a deposit. She gave me emails for people who previously stayed, but how do I know that they're not in on it too? Are there any ways to solve the dilemma of knowing if I'm getting taken without losing out on a potential rental that I want? (e.g., an escrow service?) How do people do this normally?

This is the ending of her email, for what it's worth:
Kindly get back to me if you can meet up with my conditions so I can send you a Booking Agreement Form/ Payment method, so you call fill the Agreement form and make the Payment to be able to get the place secured on time, and I'd advise you make booking on time before someone else does..


You can contact my Past Tenant from France and California before you Decide...
Brian and he's friend .. 2weeks stay in my Apartment
(she then gives another name and email too)
posted by artifarce to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask if you can see a picture of the bathroom. If they can produce a picture of the bathroom (which ought to match the niceness of the rest of the place), it's legitimacy quotient goes up. If they balk or send something that's pulled from google images, scaaaam.

It sounds pretty iffy to me so far.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2010

Does she have a VRBO profile?
posted by k8t at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Well you could start by running the photos of the house through Tin Eye and see if the photos show up elsewhere on the web. That would at least give you a starting point.
posted by saradarlin at 7:55 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I say scam. Here's a bunch of the same text in an NYC Craigslist ad.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

Pfft. The times I've used VRBO I've never had to give them any money prior to arrival. Since everybody and their mother (who owns a cabin) is using VRBO these days, I use them as a baseline for legitimacy. I love Craigslist, but this one gets a yellow light from me. Warning bells, but not alarm bells.
posted by rhizome at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

oneirodynia has it.
posted by rhizome at 8:05 PM on August 4, 2010

And it looks like most of the DC-related text comes from this (seemingly) legit listing on VRBO.
posted by foggy out there now at 8:35 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, and that price is way too low for that place, both in terms of how nice it is and location.

I always use, though, unlike, rhizome, I've paid in advance and had no problems. I suspect they'd get removed from there pretty quickly if it's a scam.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've seen postings like the one that oneirodynia linked to on the Stockton, CA craigslist. If you've ever been to Stockton you know that places that nice don't exist (I remember the ad said the apartment was on the 15th floor of the building... haha... there's nothing that high here).
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:50 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: Red flags:

- the language of the post title and email do not match the text of the ad for style, fluency, and general command of the language.

- the photos look professional to me. You need a wider-than-standard lens and some nice lighting to get those photos.

- the price is way, way too low.

- text appears to be taken from this VRBO description, which shows a different apartment at a higher rate.
posted by Orinda at 8:58 PM on August 4, 2010

p.s. Just to clarify, professional-looking photos on a craigslist ad don't automatically mean it's a scam, but taken in combination with the improbably low price, the language issues, and the copying of text from other sources, the quality of the photos would make me suspicious that they've been copied from elsewhere, too--either a real estate site or a home decorating site.

I've been craigslist shopping for apartments recently and after exchanging emails with one (likely) Nigerian scammer, I quickly learned how to spot the scams. If the price appears too good to be true, the next test is to paste chunks of text into Google and see whether the results are consistent with the ad.
posted by Orinda at 9:13 PM on August 4, 2010

FWIW, both the NYC and DC ads refer to the stove as a "cooker," which is British English, so whomever is renting these places out is apparently from outside of the US.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:14 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: I've rented from a ton of people with poor English where I needed to give them a bunch of money up front and it's always worked out, but in this case I'd hesitate.

1) It's way too cheap for how nice it looks and where it is.
2) The view outside the window apparently shows high rises. Downtown DC doesn't have skyscrapers (even though the thing about nothing being taller than the Washington Monument is not actually true, apparently), and that view doesn't look like Capitol Hill to me. I could be wrong, but that just does not feel right.

When I was waiting for one of my apartments to be ready in DC, I checked to find a place and found a teensy apartment near Dupont for $50 a night. Might want to try that if you give up on this place.
posted by wending my way at 11:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The view is so totally not Capital Hill. Maaaybe Rosslyn, but not DC proper. The buildings just don't look like that.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:38 AM on August 5, 2010

The exact same thing happened to me when looking for a place to stay in Manhattan last year. Professional-looking photos, odd use of language, great price. I got nearly all the way to the deposit stage when s/he stopped responding to emails. Then I found the same photos and reviews being used for other addresses. My advice is, don't rent a place this way unless a friend can check it out for you. The potential cost of arriving to find that you have no accommodation and have to pay walk-in-off-the-street prices at a hotel is just too much.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:10 AM on August 5, 2010

I'd pass, but wanted to pass along that I've had great vacation rental results by going to a city's chamber of commerce and then finding realtors.
posted by dzaz at 4:06 AM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the good responses. I knew, but didn't want to accept that I knew, you know?

For the record, it wasn't that I wanted a nice place, just that I need more room to stash a couple kids. That's the reason Airbnb hasn't worked out so far. Thanks for the alternate suggestions--back to the drawing board!
posted by artifarce at 5:22 AM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: Oh, but is a security deposit ever required for legitimate rentals by owner, even if it's paid when you show up?
posted by artifarce at 5:23 AM on August 5, 2010

While I was living in Paris an acquaintance ran by me a Paris Craigslist apartment she was considering renting. She asked me if it seemed good. Good? It was incredible--heart of the 5th arr. view, gorgeous, and way below current rents. Description was fantastic. I just knew it didn't exist and told her to tell the owner I would come over to take a look since I was living there. That was the end of the e-mails. So anyone out there feeling uneasy about Craigslist scams should ask if a friend, sibling, parent nearby can come and take a look.
posted by Elsie at 5:50 AM on August 5, 2010

I've done vacation rentals that required a security deposit--separate from the rental fee, returned shortly after the end of the stay.

(And yeah, the view out that bedroom window is totally not anywhere in Capitol Hill.)
posted by drlith at 6:10 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: I've done a lot of vacation rentals through Craigslist, VBRO, etc. In all cases the person on the other end has been a real person who I can speak with on the phone, chat about the property, the neighborhood, etc.

There is no reason to treat this as an arm's-length transaction. Someone advertising a vacation rental on Craigslist is often just a typical second-home owner who is doing some rentals to bring in some extra cash. Make telephone contact and make sure you are totally comfortable before you make any commitment or any money is exchanged. If you get any weird vibes, just move on to the next rental.
posted by alms at 6:23 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: Here's another tactic for scam-busting: ask for the exact address of the place in question before agreeing to rent there. In my experience, most legitimate landlords will give you the address, though there are always the paranoid oddballs. (And my experience has come mainly from smaller cities and towns; I don't know whether big-city landlords would be more reluctant to give out the address.) You can then check out the address in various ways: go to the assessor's website for that municipality and check whether the owner's name and property description match what's in the ad/email; do a virtual drive-by in Google Maps Street View and see whether the building matches the ad; get a local friend to swing by and check the place out, at least from the exterior; Google the address to see whether it's being advertised on a different site as a home for sale or for rent (and again, does the information line up with what you're seeing in the craigslist ad?).

To answer the follow-up question, yes, I have had to send a security deposit and payment of rent in advance to secure a legitimate vacation rental (found on VRBO). In that case I was communicating by phone and email with a real estate agent whose website I could visit, whose office I could find in various directories, etc. The deposit was returned to me promptly after we left the property.
posted by Orinda at 8:00 AM on August 5, 2010

I've rented several guesthouses, and I've had to pay a deposit 80% of the time. I think that by itself is not weird. But, yeah, I'd ask for an exact address so you can Google around.
posted by wending my way at 8:13 AM on August 5, 2010

Oh, but is a security deposit ever required for legitimate rentals by owner, even if it's paid when you show up?

I'm pretty sure we've paid a security deposit up front for everything we've rented on VRBO. That's not really unusual; they want to make sure you don't flake out or trash the place.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2010

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