Let’s face it, internet scams are a reality, and all consumers need to proceed with a certain level of caution. Unfortunately, the vacation rental industry is not free from scammers. Allow us, a professional vacation rental management company, to provide some tips on how to protect yourself from scammers when trying to book a vacation rental.
- NEVER wire transfer money to anyone, particularly overseas, unless you have thoroughly verified and followed the recommendations below. Any legitimate business also will give you the ability to pay by credit cards or e-Check (also called electronic check or ACH). Not only does it afford you as a consumer a level of convenience but also protection. The privilege of being able to take payment by credit card, e-check or ACH is only afforded to those who have passed rigorous background and financial checks from the banking industry.
- Verify the entity you are working with. Do they have a fairly professional website? Is there a real person to talk to – over the phone, not just through email?
- Pick up the phone. Is there a real person who answers during normal business hours? Is there a real person who is willing to talk to you? Scammers usually like to do everything by email. Beware if they never give you a phone number and if they don’t readily answer the phone or return your calls promptly during business hours.
- What kind of email address do they use? Scammers just love using email services where it is easy to set up an account. Professional companies will often use an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org which also corresponds with their website address – NaplesFloridaVacationHomes.com. We’ve seen people pretending to be us and using email addresses like: email@example.com – That is a scammer.
- Verify the organization you are working with. Are they are a registered corporation? Can you find them on the internet in places other than the alleged website? Legitimate businesses shall be registered with the Secretary of State. You can verify our organization with the Florida Secretary of State by going to: http://www.sunbiz.org/. Click on “Look Up a Business by Name” in the left column. Click “Inquire by Name.” Enter “Naples Florida Vacation Homes, LLC” to verify if our registration is active and real.
- Thieves don’t pay their fair share of taxes. In fact, they don’t pay taxes at all. Any rental less than 6 months in Florida has to pay taxes by law. Two different types of taxes are applicable in this industry: 1) State Sales Tax to the Florida Department of Revenue and 2) Tourist Taxes to the corresponding county (in our case, Collier County Tax Collector). By request, any legitimate company will be glad to provide a copy of their Certificate of Registration.
- Unless an owner is managing his own unit, by law any rental 30 days or greater must be handled by a licensed realtor. Any rental for less than 30 days must be licensed with the Division of Hotels and Registration. You can verify those licenses with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Click on “Verify a License” in the blue navigation tab at the top. Search by Name: Jasinski, Kristen to verify our owner is a licensed Realtor. Search by Organization: Naples Florida Vacation Homes, LLC to verify that our organization holds a license to manage Vacation Rental Dwellings.
- Verify the manager’s association with other trade organizations. Are they members of their profession’s professional organizations? Are they members of the local chamber of commerce? Find Naples Florida Vacation Homes on these professional tourism organizations’ sites: VisitFlorida.com – Florida’s Board of Tourism, DiscoverVacationHomes.com hosted by the Vacation Rental Managers Association, and Florida Vacation Rental Manager’s Association.
- Is the property advertised on other vacation rental websites? Let’s face it, the internet is a big place. A professional knows that to be seen by a large audience, it is not enough to advertise in only one place, but many. Is the property listed in many places, including top vacation rental websites like HomeAway, VRBO, VacationHomeRentals, FlipKey, TripAdvisor?
- Reviews are also a big thing in our industry. It takes a long time to collect those reviews as a very small percentage of travelers take the time out to write reviews. As vacation rental managers we are careful to manage only those properties we would personally be proud to stay at as well. Ask the manager where they collect their reviews, and read what other travelers are saying about their experiences traveling. Sometimes a newer property might not have had the benefit of someone writing a review yet. If there are no reviews about that property, ask if there are reviews about other properties you manage. Guests talk not only about the specific property but also about the service of the vacation rental manager so reading reviews about other properties managed by that company can provide insight into the service they are to provide. You can check out reviews of companies on such sites as TripAdvisor. Find our company review page HERE.
- Beware of tactics to wheel and deal. Scammers will offer an unbelievable price or give big discounts just to get your money. It costs a lot of money to own, maintain and manage a vacation rental property. A professional vacation rental manager or a smart homeowner knows that. They also know their market. Buyer beware of the rental which is substantially cheaper than the competition. Consider also the average nightly rate of the proposed vacation rental, and compare it to the cost of a hotel room. Ask yourself, “How can one own and operate a whole vacation house for the fraction of a single hotel room?”
- Is the property manager or owner in close proximity to the property? Google Maps is your friend. Search the property. Look at an aerial view. Is it real? Is there a house standing? Does it look like the pictures you’ve seen at the booking site? Is the property manager or person you’ve been communicating with real? Google their name. Check out their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.
Fortunately, the proportion of scams is quite small relative to the volume of business traded on the internet. That said, your investment in booking a vacation rental often is not small. While it may seem like a lot of work, we hope the above suggestions will help protect you from scams. While it may seem like the internet is a scary place, it can also be your friend. The wealth of sources to verify information is vast. Use it to your benefit.