Voice of the consumer: Vacation sites copied for fake rentals

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - 11 News lead Call For Action investigator Katie Pelton pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

It's summertime and you may be planning a nice vacation getaway.

Before you do so, I want to make sure you are aware of rental scams. One woman reached out to our Call for Action team when hopeful vacationers showed up unannounced at two of her rental properties.

“I’ve never had anyone actually come to my properties, but today I’ve had two people come to two different properties looking through the windows, thinking these are furnished properties for rent,” said Sandi.

Sandi’s properties are listed on VRBO, a vacation rental website. Scammers copied her pictures and information and posted a fake listing on Craigslist to try to steal money from unassuming customers. One man saw the rental on Craigslist and the poster told him he could check it out in person.

“I had someone call me. They apparently went over to the property and they couldn’t get in, but there’s another unit down below so they knocked on the door and those people gave him my phone number,” said Sandi. “He called and he said he was running into scams and he wanted to make sure this was a legitimate rental.”

It is a legitimate vacation rental, but this guy was looking for a place to live. Sandi had to explain that she wasn’t the one he had been corresponding with on Craigslist.

“The gentleman that I spoke with said the people won’t meet with them, they just tell them to go over and take a look and then they’ll figure out the paperwork,” said Sandi. “The poor guy was over at another property that’s a VRBO, trying to look at that one, and I told him, ‘That’s a VRBO, that’s not a full-time rental.’ He’s going all over town looking for a place to live.”

Sandi said renters are drawn to the fake ads because it’s a nice place and the scammers are listing it at a very low price, so people think they are getting a great deal. It’s another reminder that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“They’re looking in the windows, trying to open the doors and they’re scaring the renters half to death because they think someone is trying to break into the property,” said Sandi. “I’m afraid that someone’s going to get hurt. I’m afraid for the innocent people that are going around looking at these places.”

Craigslist has a list of ways to avoid scams and the number one advice is to deal locally, face to face. Don’t pay anyone that you haven’t met in person. If someone asks you to wire money or to pay in gift cards, that’s a red flag. Do not rent or purchase a place sight-unseen.

I told Sandi to reach out to Craigslist to mark the post as spam, and to tell VRBO about what happened. If you are the victim of a scam, you can always report it to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office at www.StopFraudColorado.gov or by calling 720-508-6000. You can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.