Warning for summer rentals

June 9, 2010 1:52:58 PM PDT
A warning for consumers who may still be planning to rent a home or condo for vacation this summer.

Pennsylvania Attorney Tom Corbett said Wednesday that in order to avoid scams, people should be extra-careful of offers that seem to good to be true, especially those on social-networking sites.

"Internet sites like Craigslist, or other online classified ads, are increasingly popular among consumers who are shopping for last-minute bargains on rental homes or homeowners who are hoping to earn more rental income during the summer," Corbett said. "Unfortunately, these websites are also popular with scam artists who are hoping that an attractive offer will tempt some consumers to respond without researching the transaction."

Corbett encouraged consumers who are searching for rental properties to consider the following tips before completing a transaction:

Get the details about the transaction in writing, preferably in the form of a contract, including the property information, dates of the stay, total price, and exactly what is included and what is not.
Ask for references from past renters.
Speak to the owners/managers on the telephone instead of exclusively through email.
Check with the Better Business Bureau for possible complaints against the owner or rental company.
Be careful when reserving properties far from home. It's easy to get scammed if you can't verify the condition and location of properties pictured on the internet.
Proceed cautiously if asked to make an international payment or use a money order or wire transfer.
If possible, pay with a credit card. Credit cards typically offer protection in the event that your accommodation is not supplied as promised. Never give out personal financial information (bank account number, social security number, etc.).
Consider using a reputable rental company or real estate agent for peace of mind and to assist you in your search.

Corbett urged property owners to considering the following tips before renting their homes:

Be suspicious of inquiries with obvious mistakes regarding your property, like asking about your beautiful condo when you are offering a cabin.
Beware of offers to send you more than the price you are seeking with a request that you wire or return a portion of the money. These schemes typically involve counterfeit checks that bounce after you've delivered your own money back to the con artist.
Be suspicious of people who want to use an unsecure form of money transfer, certified checks or cashier's checks.
Question offers that give more information than a typical traveler would reveal, such as drawn out reasons for the rental - like work, family issues, or medical problems.
Also watch out for inquiries that seem too casual; serious renters care about the location, size, and condition of the property and won't offer to send money until all the important details are worked out.

Finally, Corbett offered the following tips for everyone to keep in mind concerning Internet ads or email offers:

Bad spelling, grammar and implausible stories are all tell-tale signs of internet scams. Someone who claims to be a high ranking official or traveling "businessperson" should have their facts straight and be able to communicate clearly.
Other fraud warning signs can include an unusually low price on a rental property, offering an owner more than their stated rate, and uncertainty or carelessness regarding the exact property location or availability.
Get a verifiable address, phone number, and email account. If someone is taking part in a legitimate transaction, they should be willing to disclose contact information beyond a generic or anonymous free email address. Be especially cautious if the free online e-mail service is from another country (e.g. Yahoo.co.uk).
Don't respond to messages that you know are fraudulent. This will just lead to more fraudulent messages and spam being delivered to your account.

Consumers with questions or concerns about vacation rental scams can call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or visit the Attorney General's website at www.attorneygeneral.gov to file an online consumer complaint (Click on the "Complaints" button on the front page of the website and select the "Consumer Complaint Form").