Vacation Rental Scams: How To Spot A Fake Rental Property

With COVID-19 restrictions easing across the nation, Adam Levin says many Americans are looking to get away from it all for a little R&R. Yet with hotels and resorts charging higher prices along with those objectionable amenity fees, many are looking at vacation rentals as lodging alternatives. On the other hand, like hotel rates, vacation …

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Adam Levin says online vacation scams are common

With COVID-19 restrictions easing across the nation, Adam Levin says many Americans are looking to get away from it all for a little R&R. Yet with hotels and resorts charging higher prices along with those objectionable amenity fees, many are looking at vacation rentals as lodging alternatives. On the other hand, like hotel rates, vacation and travel scams are on the upswing. To protect yourself from being scammed, you should familiarize yourself with ways you can spot a fake vacation rental. To assist you, renowned cybersecurity expert Adam K. Levin graciously agreed to provide some insightful tips for you and other mindful consumers.

Headshot image of cybersecurity expert Adam Levin wearing a suit and tie
Cybersecurity Expert Adam Levin (credit: Adam Levin)

About Adam Levin

Adam Levin is a nationally recognized cybersecurity expert with extensive experience in the field. He was the chairman and founder of CyberScout, as well as a co-founder of Mr. Levin has more than 40 years of experience as a consumer advocate. During this time he has covered areas like privacy, personal finance and security. Mr. Levin has appeared on several major media corporations. Among those are ABC News, Bloomberg, CBS News and the Wall Street Journal. He is an award-winning publisher, best selling author and currently co-hosts the cybersecurity podcast What the Hack with Adam Levin.

Co-Host of What the Hack With Adam Levin

Mr. Levin appears on his namesake podcast, along with esteemed co-hosts Beau Friedlander and Travis Taylor of Loud Tree Media. You can listen to What the Hack with Adam Levin on podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Audible and Google Podcasts.

How Common Are Vacation Rental Scams?

Vacation and travel scams were the second most common scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year. As a result, we can expect an increase this year, especially with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

What Are Typical Scams You Might See On Airbnb? 

Account padding is the most common scam on Airbnb. For instance, look for doctored or fake photos accompanied by equally phony reviews that misrepresent a listing. Furthermore, you should read reviews carefully for poor grammar and misspellings. One or two (or one of two) are normal, but if several reviews seem a little off, you should be careful.

Related: Interview With Podcaster Nisreene Atassi of Expedia

Watch for Fake AirBnB Websites

Clone websites that are identical to the official Airbnb site may appear under a similar name deploying a strategy called URL squatting (think AirBnBee). These fake websites can capture credit card numbers and other sensitive information.

Plumbing Scam

In the plumbing scam, there is a last-minute message from your host about an incident (usually plumbing-related) that renders the rental uninhabitable. The guest is then offered another rental property they’re told is “just as good.” It never is. This is the account padding scam with a bait-and-switch.

Scams Involving Booking Sites for Ukraine

A newer scam involves the current conflict in Ukraine. Over 60,000 well-meaning people have booked stays within the country that they don’t intend to use to funnel money to Ukrainians. Airbnb is supporting this initiative by waiving guest and host fees. While the gesture is laudable, scammers will almost certainly create fake listings with the intention of keeping the proceeds for themselves. You can avoid this kind of scam by looking for accounts that have been around for a long time. New accounts may be scams.

Related: America’s Most Affordable Ski Resorts For 2023

Are There Easy Ways To Identify A Vacation Rental Scam?

The first indicator of a scam is that it seems too good to be true. If you see a luxurious listing for a fraction of what other rentals cost, it should raise a red flag. Check reviews for listings, especially for newer properties. If you see several identical reviews posted within a relatively short time of one another, those are more likely to be fake.

You should never engage in transactions outside of the Airbnb platform (this goes for guests and hosts alike). Airbnb does not offer protection against scams that are transacted off their platform. Make sure you double-check the URL of the website you’re on to make sure it’s actually Airbnb and not a cloned scam site.

What About Other Vacation Rental Sites Like VRBO and Vacasa?

Vacation rental scams are consistent across the major platforms, relying on the same tactics to fool guests. In other words, this applies to VRBO, Vacasa and other vacation rental sites,

Related: Upgrade Your Summer Getaway With A Vacasa Vacation Rental

Is It Possible To Get Hacked By Visiting A Vacation Rental Website?

It is possible to get hacked by visiting a vacation website if the site or service itself is compromised. There are e-skimming attacks where hackers are able to slip bits of code onto otherwise legitimate websites to capture customer payment information. It is also possible for a site to contain malware.

Do These Vacation Rental Sites Offer Support In Case I’ve Been Scammed?

The most popular sites all provide robust support to prevent and report fraud, which is in their interest. That said, Airbnb alone hosts millions of listings around the world and can’t vet each one. Customers and hosts alike need to be vigilant.

Should I Google Information About The Vacation Rental Owner?

Guests should absolutely Google information about the rental owner and the property where they will be staying. A Google image search can help determine if a listing is genuine, and may even allow you to detect if the host is posting photos from another listing. Looking up reviews on other services for the same property or host can also provide valuable intel. For instance, if a host was banned from one rental platform, it may be scam-related.

Can You Recommend Safeguards To My Computer/Smart Device?

If you’re connecting to the Wi-Fi at a rental property, use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. This will help to protect data from being intercepted by an unscrupulous host or worse, from someone in the area who has set up a guest network meant to look legitimate. Previous guests will also be in a position to compromise the Wi-Fi. Therefore, you must  be on your guard.


Don’t use the same passwords on vacation sites as you do on other accounts. If you share passwords across your universe of websites, a breach of any of your accounts could expose even the most indecipherable password to hackers. As a consequence, they will happily use it to unlock your digital life.

Watch For Incoming Emails

Be careful with any incoming emails from a rental service. This is especially true if they are marked urgent and require clicking a link or downloading an attachment. This could be a trap to redirect you to a clone website designed to steal your login credentials. Equally bad is if they put malware on your digital device that can turn it into a transmitter (which sends your USER ID and password to hackers every time you log on to any account). Moreover, they could also lock up your files with ransomware.

Don’t Overshare On Social Media

Don’t overshare too many details on social media. For instance, letting others know when you’ll be out of town, where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. This information can be helpful to scammers, burglars and identity thieves. If they know where you are, they can find you. If they know where you’re not, they can break into your home.

About The Author

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget and He earned a media fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.