Vrbo is an online marketplace that features vacation rentals listed by individual owners. Prior to its 2006 acquisition, Vrbo was called VRBO, which stood for Vacation Rental By Owner. Using Vrbo offers people a wide selection of unique vacation rentals at any budget.
Renters can be scammed within the Vrbo system, although it’s very difficult. Fake listings can still exist, and scammers can find workarounds to operate outside of the system. Fortunately, there are several things you can do if you suspect you may be dealing with any fraudulent activity on Vrbo.
In this article, I’ll discuss five things to look out for in order to avoid being scammed on Vrbo. We’ll also discuss four preventative measures you can take to ensure that you’re protected if you’re concerned that a listing may be fraudulent.
In What Ways Can Renters Be Scammed Using VRBO?
Any online activity that involves exchanging services or products for money runs the risk of attracting scammers. The key to avoiding getting scammed is knowing what red flags to look for and what to do about it if you think that it may be happening to you.
Renters using Vrbo can be scammed into paying for properties that do not actually exist, paying for copycat properties, or properties that are misrepresented by their photos or description.
The number one way renters can be scammed when using Vrbo is through a fake listing for a property that doesn’t exist.
Fake Property Listings
People attempting to scam renters on Vrbo can post photos of homes that are not from an actual listing. These photos can be taken from home sale listings or elsewhere on the internet and posted on Vrbo with a property description that matches the photos, leading potential renters to believe that the listing is genuine.
Once the renter’s payment has gone through, the host may either become unresponsive, send a fake address, delete the listing, or do any number of things that are likely to indicate they were scamming the renter.
Copycat Property Listings
Another method scammers can use to con renters into paying for a rental house that doesn’t exist is by posting copycat listings of real ones. Scammers will sometimes repost photos and descriptions from accurate Vrbo listings but mark the price differently or change small details about the listing, or they may simply leave the listing exactly as it is.
These scams are particularly convincing because they take the information from accurate listings and duplicate them, making it difficult for a renter to detect red flags.
If you notice two duplicate listings on Vrbo from different hosts, alert Vrbo’s customer service department so that they can remove the fraudulent listing.
Misrepresented listings are slightly less nefarious because the host will actually provide the renter a stay in exchange for payment.
However, properties can be grossly misrepresented using photographs or details about the property that are exaggerated or simply false.
If you find yourself renting a property that you feel has been misrepresented, make sure to document your stay with photos as evidence when you contact Vrbo about being scammed.
5 Ways Red Flags to Look Out For in Vrbo
In this section, we’ll discuss five red flags to look for when searching through Vrbo rentals to avoid getting scammed.
1. The Host Is Pushing You Into Making a Decision
Vrbo hosts are real people or property rental companies that tailor their communication to your needs and requests. They should understand the level of professionalism expected of a Vrbo host.
A seasoned host deals with hundreds of inquirers per year and understands that individuals who don’t end up booking a stay may still reach out.
If the Vrbo host you’re communicating with is pushing you to make a decision, rushing you, or being in any way aggressive about your booking, this is a huge red flag.
If you are experiencing this, you should take screenshots of your exchanges with the host and reach out to Vrbo’s customer service department immediately.
2. The Host Is Requesting You Send Money Outside Vrbo
If all business is conducted through the Vrbo platform, the risk of dealing with any fraudulent activity is extremely low.
Vrbo has privacy protection and safety features in place which protect your information and financial transactions.
Under no circumstances should a host ever suggest you send money using any method outside of the Vrbo platform.
Occasionally scammers will make up excuses about why you have to pay using alternative payment methods or even suggest that they can save you money by reducing fees and taxes if you pay them directly.
This is never true, and if a Vrbo host requests payment using Zelle, Venmo, Cash App, or any other form of payment, contact Vrbo’s customer service department immediately.
3. The Listing Photos Are Poor Quality or Only of the Outside
Another red flag when searching for listings on Vrbo is poor-quality photos. Actual hosts of Vrbo know how important photos are to attracting new renters and are motivated to put effort into listing photos.
Take pause if photos have a grainy quality and look like they might have been grabbed from elsewhere on the internet.
Additionally, listings should show the property’s inside, including photos of most if not all of the rooms. If you notice a listing that only shows exterior photos, this could indicate a fraudulent listing.
Feel free to request additional photos from your host or even a video walkthrough in which they state your name at the beginning of the video to ensure that the host has access to real property.
4. The Listing Is Brand New or There Are No Reviews
While a brand new listing does not necessarily indicate a scam (everyone has to start somewhere), you should be cautious when booking with a listing with no reviews.
Almost all Vrbo listings have multiple reviews from real people who have stayed at the property. If the listing you’re considering has no reviews and seems to be new, look for other red flags.
If you don’t see any other red flags, consider communicating with the host directly and explaining that just to be cautious, you’d appreciate additional photographs or a video walkthrough to ensure it’s not a scam.
A new Vrbo host should be happy to oblige this request in the hopes that you will stay with them and leave a good review, highlighting how accommodating they were.
If your host reacts with hostility or frustration, report the listing to Vrbo’s customer service department.
5. The Price Seems Too Good To Be True
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While there is a wide range of listings on Vrbo in every budget, you typically get what you pay for.
If a listing you’re looking at seems like an insanely good deal for what it is, you should approach it with cautious optimism.
Make sure to consult reviews and contact the host in an effort to communicate with them and see if anything seems off.
Use Good Judgment and Trust Your Intuition
In addition to these five steps, several other things could indicate a scam, and you should always trust your instincts if you feel something may be off.
If you notice a strange email address with a domain you don’t recognize, bizarre behavior from the host, they don’t have a photo of themselves posted, or there are strange directions in the description, these could all be indicators that something’s amiss.
It’s always better to be cautious and request additional information from your host before payment if you suspect fraudulent activity.
4 Tips to Avoid Being Scammed on Vrbo
Below are four things you can do to avoid being scammed when renting a stay using Vrbo.
1. Never Contact or Send Money to Hosts Outside Vrbo
For Vrbo to protect your privacy and financial security, any financial dealings must go through the Vrbo platform exclusively.
If any fraudulent activity occurs via payment outside the Vrbo platform, they will not accept responsibility; in this case, your only recourse would be hoping your credit card company would reverse the charges.
Vrbo has a Book with Confidence Guarantee that may protect you in the case of internet fraud, but only if you follow directions and operate within their platform.
2. Talk to the Host Over the Phone Before Booking
Behind every Vrbo listing is a real person or rental company that is happy to help you book your stay. Communication with your host is an essential part of the booking process, and you should feel complete confidence in your stay before any payment goes through.
If you’re at all concerned about your stay or suspicious of fraudulent behavior, call your host before booking.
Talking to a real person should put you at ease, and your host should be able to answer any questions you have about your stay and send you additional resources should you request them.
Host phone numbers are on listings to be used, so if you attempt to call and repeatedly can’t get through to a person or receive an email as a response, you should consider reaching out to Vrbo’s customer service department, and they can contact the host for you.
3. Ask the Host for Additional References
Most listings you look at will have plenty of reviews that put your mind at ease. Whether or not you choose to stay at any listing based on their reviews is up to you, but you can safely assume any listing with three or more reviews is not a scam.
Occasionally, however, some listings don’t have any reviews. This could either be because they are a legitimate host starting out, or it could be a fraudulent listing.
Feel free to request additional references from your host if you feel there are not enough Vrbo member reviews on their listing to make you feel comfortable.
Hosts should be agreeable and obliging to your requests and might have listings on other rental websites such as Airbnb that they can direct you to.
If not, there may be some way for Vrbo themselves to verify the host so that you feel comfortable being their first renter.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a host with no reviews to see what they can do to help put your mind at ease.
4. Request and Review a Signed Rental Agreement
Every host on Vrbo has rental agreements for each of their listings. Rental agreements are legally binding documents that both parties (the host and the renter) agree to when booking a stay.
Some hosts may have their rental agreements already uploaded on Vrbo, but you are entitled to request a signed copy of the rental agreement prior to booking.
The host’s rental agreement is not to be confused with their house rules. House rules are put into place to protect the host against damages to their property or listing from guest stays.
However, house rules supersede rental agreements, so you’ll want to make sure to look over both of these things prior to payment closely.
If your host is hesitant to send you a signed rental agreement, you should immediately report them to Vrbo’s customer service department, as this is almost certainly a scam.
Furthermore, suppose you want to be covered by Vrbo’s Book with Confidence Guarantee. In that case, you are expected to adhere to all of the guidelines laid out in the host’s rental agreement, so you’ll want to ensure it meets your expectations before booking.
Booking a stay through Vrbo is almost always safe and secure as long as you practice common sense and operate exclusively within the Vrbo platform.
Make sure to look out for any red flags when booking stays, and always feel empowered to ask for additional information, photos, or rental agreements. Real Vrbo hosts should be happy to accommodate any of your needs.
If you believe you have been scammed, reach out to Vrbo and your credit card company about reversing charges, and report the fraudulent activity to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).