Although technology has advanced the Key West vacation rental industry tremendously over the last few years, allowing travelers from all over the world to shop for and locate Key West vacation rentals with ease, it has also complicated the vacation rental industry in a way many of us never imagined. It is the nightmare of our business to receive the news that unsuspecting travelers arrive in Key West to find that the vacation rental that they paid for online actually does not exist, or was not rented to them by the legitimate vacation rental manager of the home. This is unfortunately a story that is becoming more and more common in Key West, as scammers on sites like Craigslist steal and post photos and descriptions of beautiful homes like those that we manage, creating fake listings and luring in innocent vacation rental seekers to submit payment online – only to find upon arrival that their rental is not legitimate and that they have been scammed. For this reason, we have put together some tips for protecting yourself against vacation rental scams when shopping for your next rental.
If a listing only accepts online payments, or requires a credit card via email or online to “hold the reservation”, a quick Google search may save you from being scammed. Legitimate vacation rental companies have their own websites for verification and marketing purposes, and very few private owners renting out their homes personally accept payment via PayPal or another online source.
If you have read about Transient Rental Licenses in Key West, you know that very few homes in Key West can be rented nightly and weekly because of the strictly enforced city ordinances surrounding short-term rentals. The high demand for these rentals drives the nightly and weekly rental rates up, which makes it difficult to find inexpensive vacation rental lodging for less than a one-month stay. Many have turned to sites like Craiglist to search for less expensive vacation home options, but the homes posted on these sites at $150 per night are generally scams. Even in the case that a private owner does rent their home through Craigslist, they will not be charging $150 per night. Not even on “extreme last minute special” – the truth is that most homeowners would rather let their homes sit empty than rent last minute for $150 per night. Do some research on market rates for rentals during your travel dates, and if you see pricing that is vastly below that – that should be your first red flag of a scam listing. The lesson here is: if the deal on the home looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Sites such as Craigslist are free to create accounts and post – making it easy and accessible to all. However, because these sites are free, anyone can post on them with zero investment. We do not list our homes on Craigslist, or any other “free” listing site for that exact reason. We have chosen to advertise on paid listing sites such as HomeAway and VRBO, as well as most recently AIRBNB, which require annual paid subscriptions to list and/or service fees to the manager & the guest for booking, because we are then listed only among other legitimate vacation homes that paid to advertise there. For our company, the risk of being listed among scam rentals is not worth the return of additional traffic we may receive through those free sites. Avoid searching for rentals on listing sites that are free to post, and you will likely protect yourself from scammers who would not pay the subscription fees to post a fake listing on a paid site.
Most vacation rental homes offer some sort of outlet for previous guests to evaluate their previous stays, and finding reviews from past guests on a property not only assures you that the rental likely DOES exist (since others stayed there in order to evaluate it) but it also gives you a reference point for your decision besides the rental company’s description of the home. Reviews can be good, bad, and even ugly – but they will tell you more about a home than any advertisement can. We encourage all of our guests to leave guest reviews on our HomeAway and VRBO listings, and we urge our potential guests researching our homes to read those reviews to help them evaluate the homes they are reserving. In addition to providing legitimacy and evaluation for a home, the reviews often give great advice to future guests on local spots to visit close to the rental home, or things in the home to take advantage of such as a special feature that may not be listed in the write-up. A listing and/or company with no reviews should be a mental flag for a researcher to ask more questions.
If you are ever in the final stage of a rental and want to check one last time for legitimacy, call the City of Key West Licensing Department at 305-809-3955 and ask for help in verifying the rental company and/or home. If you are the victim of a vacation rental scam, you can file complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and/or the FTC. Finally, to be sure you are renting a legitimate 5-star luxury home with 24/7 concierge guest services, contact us anytime to discuss our available rentals.