Even paranoids can get scammed, can't they?
July 18, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I have some questions about renting an apartment through VRBO, please reassure me that I'm probably just overly worried.

My fiancee and I are heading to Europe next month, and one of our planned stops is Amsterdam. We've contacted an owner there and everything seems relatively reasonable, but this is my first time renting through them and I just want to make sure that things seem on the up and up to others who have used the site.

My main concerns are:
1) The owner asked for a scan of my passport. Is this normal? I vaguely remember them scanning my passport as I travelled through Spain last year. Is this an EU thing?

2) The owner has asked that payment be made in cash when we arrive. Is this a common practice? I just want to make sure that this isn't a red flag.

3) The property has a bunch of good reviews, but I guess I'm just worried since VRBO doesn't really seem to vet reviews, this is probably just my overly active imagination, admittedly.

I'd appreciate any advice/links that you can share, the VRBO website seems much more geared to helping owners than renters, leaving me at a bit of a loss.
posted by dnesan to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The owner asked for a scan of my passport. Is this normal?

Yes, its proof of ID.

The owner has asked that payment be made in cash when we arrive. Is this a common practice?

Maybe a pink flag... I would suspect they just don't want to declare the rental income on their taxes. If you're paying cash on arrival, then you don't have to part with the money until you're in the apartment and have the keys, but of course you have less protection if something goes wrong.
posted by missmagenta at 9:19 AM on July 18, 2011

1) Yes, scanning your passport is normal.

2) When you say that the owner asked for cash, do you mean that he said he prefers cash, or that he said he requires cash? I've stayed at places (in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and London) where cash up-front has been preferred, but they would accept a credit card if you insist.
posted by neushoorn at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2011

The cash may also be to avoid bank charges. Aside from currency exchange fees, some banks also charge for both sending and receiving money between foreign bank accounts.
posted by missmagenta at 10:00 AM on July 18, 2011

I asked this question about homeaway and I believe the two groups are similar so that might help shed some light upon the subject.

I ended up doing the deposit by bank transfer (I was living in Europe at the time) and then paid the rest in cash.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:19 AM on July 18, 2011

VRBO is a subsidiary of HomeAway.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:24 AM on July 18, 2011

I rented in France once for a week, not through VRBO, but another similar site. Both the passport scan and the cash payment on arrival were requested (along with a cash security deposit).

Payment and return of security deposit went off without a hitch, we really had no major issues. So I would say neither of these things are big things to worry about or would seem to be particularly unusual, but of course there are probably bad renters and scammers out there in the world. Just stay alert and make sure you get a good look at the place before handing over the cash. If something seems shady or out of sorts be ready to bail, but most likely that won't be the case. They'll probably have some sort of rental agreement for you, ask (ahead of time if necessary) for a copy in english so you can actually give it a read and have some evidence on your behalf if any problems came up.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:48 PM on July 18, 2011

I booked our honeymoon condo in Tokyo for a week on VRBO and also stayed in a nice high rise in Vancouver with my mother a couple of years ago - also booked through the site.

When I posted a positive review of the last place I stayed through VRBO, the owner asked me to duplicate it/write another positive write-up on several other sites, one of which was a foreign B&B site, and one of which was TripAdvisor. So, you could try Googling the address/intersection of the place you're renting and the word "reviews" or "travel" and see if other sites come up with listings/reviews for the same property, maybe?

Having used it for 2+ years to book accommodations in foreign countries, I can tell you that the VRBO website itself legit. Also, the VRBO owners were a HELL of a lot more thorough than anyone - friends or hotel concierges - about making sure I had contact info, printed maps, personal cell phone numbers, etc. if I needed anything in advance or upon arrival, especially in regard to banking/taxis/food/comfort. In fact, the Tokyo property owner had videotaped himself walking to and from the nearest 24-hour store, the train station, etc. and put the videos on his desktop so we could watch them and familiarize ourselves with the area.

I honestly would recommend using VRBO.com to anyone - and just suggested that my own sister use it to plan her destination wedding/honeymoon. I don't know anyone that's gotten scammed using the site, and it was recommended to me by a coworker who uses it to book her 4 vacations a year, including her annual trip to Amsterdam. She's out of the office today, but if you want to memail me the details I can ask her if she knows the area/spot you're considering renting when she returns Wednesday.

It's also possible that the owner pays a significant exchange and transaction fee for foreign currency transactions and/or has had renters dispute charges on their credit cards in the past - have you asked the owner about this? When I arrived at my Vancouver location, I walked with the owner to the bank and withdrew cash to pay for the remainder of the rental amount after he showed me how to get in and out of the building and where the parking spot/elevator/spare key, etc. were located. Perhaps you could ask the owner for references that you could contact yourself, if you're worried?

Enjoy your awesome trip!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:12 PM on July 18, 2011

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