Scammers can list your home as a rental property

Woman horrified when renters contact her

This is the time of year many of us look for vacation homes for rent.

But one woman was mortified to learn her home had been listed on some rental sites, and that people were trying to rent it.

Stephanie Hollander is trying to sell her house. But she never imagined her "for sale by owner" listing would put her home into the hands of scammers.

Contacted by unsuspecting renter

"We were contacted about two weeks ago by a woman who says she had rented our home," she said.    

Hollander first thought it was a joke, but then realized the woman had sent a cash down payment to someone for a weekend rental. 

"We, of course, were not renting our home," she said. "We had no knowledge of this, we didn't authorize anyone to rent out our home."

Hollander obviously did not put a "for rent" sign in front of her house. But it sure felt like that, given the ridiculous low price of $49 per night that scammers had put up. 

It's the latest version of the home rental scam, according to Forbes magazine.

Scammers in other countries copy your sale listing (and all the photos), then put up a rental listing on Craigslist, Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway, which is where Hollander's ended up.

"We looked at the ad," she said. "And indeed all the outside and interior pictures we had taken for selling our home were now listed on this website."

She contacted HomeAway.com, which has since pulled the listing.

Warning signs of a scam

HomeAway (and its sister site VRBO) have warnings on their site about bogus rentals, and are responsive to homeowners who contact them in cases like Hollander's, though you will have to provide proof you are the real owner.

Forbes Magazine, meantime, lists some warning signs that a dream vacation rental may not be real. Keep these in mind the next time you're searching for a vacation rental for your family.

  • The price is too low for the area, such as $150 a night in a beach community where most homes are $300 a night.
  • There is no feedback from previous renters.
  • The owner wants a money order, MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfer, rather than a credit card, which can protect you from fraud. 
  • The "owner" says he is out of the country, perhaps relocated temporarily for business.

The scariest part? Hollander worries that renters might show up on her doorstep any time.

"I was told by HomeAway that my house had been rented at least three times in the future," she said.

She said she hopes HomeAway can warn them they were scammed.

How to protect yourself

If you are a homeowner, keep your eyes out for any strange calls, Facebook posts or anyone showing up at your door asking about a rental.

If you are renting a vacation home, Forbes suggests contacting the owner directly and asking some questions.

Be suspicious if the answers seem canned, or if the "owner" makes a bunch of grammatical errors in the email or text. That can mean he may not be in the country, and that way you don't waste your money.

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