Scammers in travel planning

We’ve never come too close to getting travel-scammed. At least, the ones that have come close to us were actively after us – they initiated contact. Upon browsing the New York Times Travel section today, I discovered there are more passive types of scammers lurking in the travel listings, just waiting for you to take the bait. The story is about a vacation rental in London that wasn’t (you might have to log in to read it – it’s worth it, as they never spam), but the guy didn’t figure it out until he’d already paid.

What really stuck with me about this article is two-fold:

1) I already exhaustively research places we’re thinking about staying, and adding scam-proofing to my repetoire might be getting into crazy-making territory.

2) The author points out that always insisting on paying with a credit card is a good way to insulate yourself from scammers. I have two problems with this; I love to pay by bank transfer and many of the loveliest places in which we’ve had the pleasure of staying don’t accept credit cards! I realize that this article is aimed at Americans, for whom bank transfer payments are out of the ordinary.

There are a couple, more specific irks that I noticed in the article, but read it for yourself and do the me kindness of telling me whether I’m getting too worked up over this. Have you ever stumbled upon lurking scammers when trying to plan travel? How did you end up working around it? How do you insulate yourself from people out to separate you from your money?

9 thoughts on “Scammers in travel planning”

  1. CN Heidelberg

    I wouldn’t think anything of sending the money by bank transfer since that is standard here – so I don’t agree with that as a sign of a scam. The price didn’t sound like a scam to me either – sometimes individuals rent out their places for less because it’s still a ton of money for an individual even under market rate. I think the thing that would have made me nervous here is that they wanted all the money up front. In my experience places only ask for a deposit up front and sometimes a credit card number to hold if it’s a big hotel.

    1. Sarah

      I will definitely take wanting the full payment upfront (meaning before we even get there – we usually pay it all after getting the keys) as a bad sign in the future, because, upon reflection, we’ve never been asked for more than a deposit. So I’m glad that the author pointed that out.

      As far as I know, though, I’ve only ever rented from vacation rental agencies. Never a private individual just letting out their place while they’re gone.

  2. Chris

    Thanks for the heads up on this. We usually use reputable sites, our travel agent, or our timeshane/RCI properties. But, it is good to know that should we ever be tempted by a property, we need to do our due diligence. Good reminder to us all.

    1. Sarah

      I’m a little confused as to what the author means by ‘reputable site,’ though. I do all of my travel planning/researching on my own (bit of a control freak, here) and I’ve come across some pretty busted, janky looking sites. Upon a thorough review, it appeared everything was legitimate – they just didn’t have access to the best web developers.

      Or does he mean to only go through large aggregators like FlipKey or Venere? So far, it seems like the owners of rental properties have resisted being grouped like that, whether intentionally or by the nature of the service offered. Because I think that would mean missing out on a lot of great places.

  3. ian in hamburg

    As soon as I read “found on Craigslist” I thought – uh-huh. Though I never use Craigslist, I’ve heard enough about it to know that anything you read on it could be suspect. A lot of the tips are common sense, and about the credit card refund thing – I’d check with my card issuer before assuming that’s true.

    1. Sarah

      I know, right? I have this prejudice where Craigslist=skanky. But if you’re talking about the private person that’s just renting out their place while gone, then I can see that guy thinking he’ll just list on CL and see what turns up. Maybe it’s not worth completely discounting.

      But, yeah, much of the rest of it seemed like (what ought to be) common sense.

      1. Tammy

        I had the same knee jerk reaction to Craigslist, but I also found an skanky apartment in DC for a great price via Craigslist (skanky but legit). I probably wouldn’t use it for an overseas trip though because I could see the place in DC before taking it.

        I think the request for money transfer from the US is highly suspicious though. I don’t even wire money to myself from the US!

  4. GinBerlin

    Interestingly, I have been able to use a credit card to secure apartments in Italy even though the price I paid was dependent on my paying in cash. I stayed at a place in Orlando that wanted a deposit far in advance and I actually checked the owner out with the BBB and the Real Estate Office in Florida (he was a licensed broker) and that gave me the security I needed to do that.
    I have seen some real ads on CraigsList, but they didn’t ask for full payment in advance either and I wouldn’t use CL unless I had a local friend to check it out.
    But you guys are so thorough, I wouldn’t expect ou to be scammed.

    1. Sarah

      I think we’ve been able to do deposit on a CC (or, more accurately, a hold) but pay in cash. It seemed weird to me at first, but turned out to be a pretty good system.

      And thanks for the vote of confidence! I think the obsessive researching pays off.

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