Carole Hunter thought the $1,950 for a weekly rental in San Francisco was too good to be true. She was right.
Hunter, who had found the room through a Web site called RentalsExpress.com, had wired the money directly to the owner. But when she arrived in the City by the Bay, she discovered that the condo on New Montgomery Street didn’t exist.
There was no such address. We were absolutely devastated. The loss of the money is bad enough, but the fact that we were duped is the worst feeling. This is a warning to tourists to be very aware of what kind of fraud takes place over the Internet.
Hunter eventually found alternate accommodations, but she’ll never recover the $1,950. I contacted RentalsExpress.com on her behalf, and it hasn’t responded. However, the language in its terms and conditions appears to let it off the hook.
[The company] assumes no liability for damages, direct or consequential, which may result from the use of the RentalsExpress.com, even if [it] has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
She’s hardly alone. I recently wrote about Sue Barnett, an editor from San Francisco, who tried to rent an apartment in New York through Craigslist. “The apartment numbers did not exist, and the phone number we had was no longer accepting incoming calls,” she remembers.
How do you avoid being scammed by a nonexistent vacation rental? Here are three tips.
1. Pay with a credit card. Hunter wired the money. Bad idea. Barnett used PayPal, which eventually refunded her money. My advice? Use a card with a proven dispute-resolution department.
2. Do your due diligence. Look up the property online. Google the postal address. Odds are, if it doesn’t exist online, it doesn’t exist.
3. Use a reputable site. A Web site like Zonder.com screens all the properties it lists, so you can be sure they’re real. Others don’t.
Hunter also told me about a site called Lookstoogoodtobetrue.com that tracks scams such as the one she fell for.
Here’s hoping you don’t fall for it, too.