Vacation rental operators have always been at risk, but it seemed less scary before.
We had Airbnb to verify guests and protect us.
There wasn't a global crisis and we weren't as desperate to get bookings.
But an unfortunate side effect of the pandemic was an increase in fraudulent activities.
The Federal Trade Commission reported $4.77 million in coronavirus-related fraud losses since the start of the virus, the dominating category being in the travel and vacation sectors.
So what's a host to do?
Take corrective measures to avoid vacation rental scams, and continue to run your business.
In this article, I break down ways you can verify guests and make sure they are who they say they are.
Vacation rental scams: risk of not knowing who your guest is
The key to keeping your unit safe is making sure the guest is who they say they are.
On a business trip?
✅ Great, I should be able to find you on your company's website.
Sheltering in place?
✅ Okay, you should be able to tell me how you got stuck here.
These things seem simple to us, but they're inconsistent and challenging for a fraudster.
Verifying your guest's email address
This is an extremely simple first step to checking who your guest is.
Send them an email (usually it has their name in it), and if they reply from the same address, you know it's the right email.
This blog post is the result of an in-depth training given by vacation rental security expert, Anton Zilberberg.
Join the STRPA Inner Circle for a like-minded community and weekly trainings.
Checking your guest's phone number
You could send them a text message, but it's even better to give them a call.
Anton Zilberberg from Quickstay calls all his guests and masks it as a customer service call.
Fraudsters almost never answer phone calls.
They'll block the call and then send you a text message.
If you have a last-minute reservation and things feel off, that's a red flag.
If you call them and all of a sudden they reply back with a text, that’s a big red flag.
If the reservation is under a female's name and a male answers the phone, that's another red flag.
Basically, anything that feels off or inconsistent should give you reason to check in further. Call them up and ask them questions that are easy for a safe reservation to answer.
They should have those answers to these questions right away.
This is a similar method to what the TSA uses.
This methodology looks for inconsistencies – the underlying assumption of guest verification.
Check the area code in the guest's phone number
High-risk reservations are last-minute, local reservations.
While a lot of short-term rental operators are now switching to local travelers, it may still give you some indication as to whether they're lying or not.
Ask for your guest's ID to avoid vacation rental scams
It's completely acceptable to ask for a copy of somebody's ID, especially if they're entering your premises.
Tell your guest you'll meet them in person
If you suspect a reservation to be a potentially troublesome reservation, just do this:
Say that you'll meet them in person. If they're fraudsters, it might deter them from showing up.
It’s fascinating how this works.
If you have a last-minute reservation or if you have a reservation you feel uncomfortable about, tell them someone will meet them at the property.
You don’t even need to fulfill on meeting them.
If they show up you give them the code or instructions to enter.
Running a background check
A background check is looking at somebody’s historical offenses.
It could be speeding tickets, DUIs, criminal offenses or whatnot, and that way you will have more information to make a decision.
That is a standard background check – it’s what Airbnb does, what Uber does, and all of them.
The problem with the background check is that it’s not incredibly indicative of the person’s ability to commit a crime.
It also doesn’t mean that they’re going to commit a crime right now either.
Risks of running a background check
When you run a background check, you run into something called the FTRA (Financial Transaction Reporting Act).
If you’re running a background check from certain individuals and certain states and you’re asking for a social security number, you need to tell the guest you're running a background check on them and you need to share the results.
You also need to give them the ability to challenge it within 5 days, and tell them why you have declined the guest.
Be careful of any vendors that offer to run background checks. You might be liable via FTRA specifically in violation of those rules.
What a background check won't tell you
You can't really predict if someone will commit an offense in your property today if they’ve committed an offense 5 years ago.
If someone had had a DUI when they were 18 and they're trying to book accommodation right now, it doesn’t mean they'll commit another crime.
It's complicated and you might not get better results than calling your guest or using a rental agreement.
Have you have any experience with vacation rental scams? Share in the comments below!
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