Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued an official consumer alert warning tourists across the country to beware of vacation rental scams this summer.
“Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country. Scammers will take advantage of this by creating fake vacation rental listings in hopes of stealing personal information and money. Whether you’re traveling in-state or out-of-state, this summer’s Be sure to take extra precautions when renting a vacation home to avoid burnout during the holiday season,” Moody said.
Florida’s beaches attract millions of tourists each year, but the Sunshine State is known for scandals. Some cybersecurity experts refer to Florida as the “scam capital of the world,” but rental scams have spread across the country. In July, the Boston Division of the FBI warned Americans of increasing rental scams.
According to the FBI, scammers are stealing money on short-term and long-term rental scams. FBI data shows that 11,578 people reported losses of $350,328,166 due to these types of scams in 2021, a 64% increase from the previous year.
“I’ve heard of several incidents where the family is gearing up for vacation and they’ve actually flown in to Miami or they’ve been to Fort Lauderdale and then actually approached real property. They’ve actually knocked on the door, and The owner has come out and said you know, I don’t know anything about this,” said Hiram Del Amo, a cybersecurity expert.
Del Amo warns that Craigslist and Facebook have been flooded with vacation rental scams. In fact, some experts estimate that one in five online rental listings is fake.
“I’d say about 20%-25% are probably frauds.” Del Amo said.
The families of the victims of these scams lost thousands of dollars.
“We left Tennessee at 3:00 a.m. We arrived in Panama City at about 11:30, I agreed to message her via Facebook, just to let her know we were there, what we were driving, And where were we standing, and then he blocked me on Facebook.”
Katie Hall scrambles to find a new place to live with her husband and their three young boys. The family was able to secure another place, but never got their money back.
“The original cost we lost was $1,425, which was just for the original condo. Then, we had to make other plans and arrangements, so like I said we weren’t going to turn back and go back to Tennessee, so we had to get another one. Had to find the hotel,” Hall said.
Even though scams are on the rise, there are ways to protect yourself. The Florida AG shared these tips:
- Know that listings requiring consumers to leave an online platform or website to pay is a major red flag;
- Check to see if rental property photos are associated with other listings using reverse image search;
- If something looks suspicious, ask for additional photos of the listing;
- use a reputable rental website that offers fraud protection or offers payment transfer options;
- Pay through the payment portal on the listing website to ensure that the money is kept in escrow until the keys are in hand;
- Don’t rely solely on email to contact a landlord and be wary of listings with foreign telephone numbers;
- Check reviews and, if possible, visit the property to make sure everything is up to par; And
- Pay for rent with a credit card as it is easy to dispute fraudulent charges.
“Never pay cash, never pay via money order and never pay by any means that you can never get that amount back. Because that’s what they’re looking for. Will never ask for one, because they know it’s going to be charged back,” Del Amo said.
Facebook and Craigslist have warned users to beware of scams, and have also shared several tips on how to avoid scams. Both companies have also asked users to report any suspicious activity.