How Does FlipKey Prevent Vacation Rental Fraud and Scams?

At FlipKey, we’re devoted to making it easy, safe and fun to find and book a vacation rental online. We work hard to make FlipKey the most trusted website to find a rental, and we want to share our expert advice so that when you book a rental on FlipKey - or anywhere else - you can make a safe and informed decision about where to rent.

How Does FlipKey Protect Me From Scammers?

Owner Verification
The most important protection we offer to prevent travelers from scams happens before a property appears on FlipKey. Owner background checks and extensive property authentication are just a part of our stringent and time-tested owner verification processes. This process prevents fraudulent listings from appearing on FlipKey.

A Community of Trust
FlipKey has more verified reviews from past guests than any other vacation rental site. Our patented review system ensures that reviews are left by people who have stayed in the property, and we don’t allow property managers/owners to remove negative reviews about their property. Guests can now also upload photos of their stay along with their review.

Vacation Rental Protection Plan
On top of all our security measures, we also offer an affordable travel insurance policy specifically designed for vacation rental stays that protects travelers from unexpected issues like denial of entry, inadvertent double bookings, and foreclosure in addition to many traditional travel insurance benefits. See here for more details.

Where Do You Find Vacation Rental Fraud?

Vacation rental fraud schemes are similar to other online scams in which criminals take advantage of classifieds sites such as Craigslist to gather information from consumers. Instead of using a deal on cheap electronics or a used sofa as bait, vacation rental scammers advertise accommodations deals that are often too good to be true to lure unsuspecting customers.

There are Four Common Schemes to Look Out for

  1. Take the Money and Run. The criminal advertises a rental property that exists but is owned/managed by someone else – typically, at a very attractive price. The unsuspecting traveler is instructed to put a large deposit down to reserve the property and, in the vast majority of cases, the payment method is a check or bank/wire transfer as opposed to a credit card. Once the payment has been made, the criminal disappears.
  2. The Bait and Switch. A criminal will offer a great deal on an incredible looking property, but once the traveler has already paid, the original property becomes “unavailable” and the traveler is left with a cheaper, less desirable rental.
  3. Price Jacking. Similar to the Bait and Switch, in this plot, the traveler is required to pay more than the agreed-upon price to retain their booking.
  4. Phishing. Phishing in the context of vacation rentals happens when criminals are able to get unauthorized access to a manager/owner’s email account. The criminal then forwards rental inquiries to another email account and begins communicating directly with travelers.

It’s important to remember that while vacation rental fraud does happen, it is extremely rare.

What Can You Do to Stay in the Clear?

You can protect yourself from vacation rental scams by staying alert for suspicious behavior and searching for a property at a trusted website like FlipKey. Here are some ways to make sure you don’t get caught up in a bad situation:

Be Aware of Suspicious Behavior, Including…

  • Bad grammar in emails from English-speaking countries. While a typo here and there can be forgiven, vacation rental owners are professionals, and you should never receive emails that are riddled with poor grammar.
  • Sending money to a third party. If you are asked to send money to a third party, especially in another country, then be very cautious and make sure you use a secure form of payment (see next point).
  • Using unsecure payment methods. Never wire funds via instant wire services such as Western Union or Moneygram. Instead, you should try to pay by credit card or PayPal as those methods offer more protection and are much less likely to be used by fraudsters. In Europe, bank transfers are quite common but are much less common in the United States.
  • Dates that don’t match up. Make sure that the dates are consistent throughout your communications, and that the manager has reserved the dates you requested.
  • Uncertainty about the unit. Similarly, make sure that you and the property manager both reference the correct unit.

Do your Homework
We hope that you find the perfect vacation rental on FlipKey, where we’ve already verified the property and the manager/owner. If you look elsewhere, then do your own “background check.” You can do searches for the property and owner on Google, look up the property address on Google Maps (tip: use street view and match it up with a photo of the exterior), and check online for reviews.

Communicate with the Owner
Finally, one of the best ways to make sure that you’re getting exactly what you want from your vacation rental is to speak with the owner/manager over the phone. You can ask specific questions about the rental and feel free to ask for references – especially if you’re suspicious. It’s an immediate red flag if an owner/manager is unwilling to have a quick phone call with you prior to a reservation.

Where Else Can I Find Information about Vacation Rental Fraud?

In addition to this blog post, we have more helpful information in our Help Center. You can also find more information on vacation rental scams at VRWD.org, a site devoted to “helping vacationers avoid and stop fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices from vacation rental owners and businesses.” For more general information about Internet crime, we recommend IC3.gov, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and Scamwarners.com.

Vacation rentals are an excellent, safe form of travel accommodation, and we want to help you find and enjoy them. If you have any questions about how to find and book the perfect rental, feel free to get in touch with us here at FlipKey.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great post, Dan. FlipKey clearly makes owner verification and protection a high priority. That's especially valuable with so many travel and vacation rental sites focused elsewhere.

Leave a Reply