Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued an official consumer alert, warning tourists across the country to watch out for vacation rental scams this summer.
"Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the nation. Scammers will take advantage of this by creating fake vacation rental listings in hopes of stealing personal information and money. Whether you are traveling within the state or from out of state, make sure to take extra precautions when renting a vacation home to avoid being burned this summer vacation season," Moody said.
Florida's beaches draw in millions of tourists each year, but the Sunshine State is known for scams. Some cybersecurity experts refer to Florida as the "Scam Capitol of the World," but rental scams have expanded across the country. In July, the FBI's Boston Division warned Americans of increasing rental scams.
According to the FBI, scammers are stealing money on short-term and long-term rental scams. FBI data shows 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 due to these types of scams in 2021, which is a 64% increase from the previous year.
"I've heard of several incidents where the family is ready for a vacation and they've actually flown into Miami or they've flown to Fort Lauderdale and then have actually approached the actual property. They've actually knocked on the door, and the owner has come out and said you know, I don't know anything about this," Cybersecurity expert Hiram Del Amo said.
Del Amo warns vacation rental scams are flooding craigslist and Facebook. In fact, some experts estimate one in five online rental listings are fake.
"I would say somewhere around 20%-25% are probably fraud." Del Amo said.
Families who fell for these scams lost thousands of dollars.
"We left Tennessee at 3:00 a.m. We arrived in Panama City around 11:30 a.m. I got ready to message her through Facebook, just to let her know that we were there, what we were driving, and where we were parked at, and that's when she blocked me on Facebook."
Katie Hall scrambled to find a new place to stay with her husband and their three young boys. The family was able to secure another place, but never got their money back.
"The original cost we lost was $1,425, that was for the original condo itself. Then, we had to make other plans and arrangements, so like I said we weren't turning around and going back to Tennessee, so we had to find another hotel," Hall said.
Even though scams are increasing, there are ways to protect yourself. Florida's AG shared these tips:
- Know that listings requiring consumers to leave the online platform or website to pay is a major red flag;
- Check to see if photos of the rental property are affiliated with other listings by using a reverse image search;
- If something seems suspicious, ask for additional photos of the listing;
- Use a reputable rental website that offers protection in the event of fraud or offers payment transfer options;
- Make payments through a payment portal on the listing website to ensure money is held in escrow until keys are in hand;
- Do not rely solely on email to contact the landlord and be wary of listings with foreign telephone numbers;
- Check for reviews and, if possible, visit the property to ensure everything is up to par; and
- Pay for a rental with a credit card since it is easier to dispute a fraudulent charge.
"Never pay cash, never pay through money order and never pay through any means that you can never retract that amount of money back. Because that's what they're looking for. They're never going to ask you for a credit card, because they know that that's gonna get back charged," Del Amo said.
Facebook and Craiglist have warned users to watch out for scams, and also shared several tips to avoid scams. Both companies have also asked users to report any suspicious activity.