Dear Consumer Ed:

I have read several offers for vacation rentals on the Internet that appear to be too good to be true. What should I look out for?

Consumer Ed says:

Websites that are comprised of classified ads operate much like the classified section of your local newspaper.  Like the newspaper, these websites do not check to ensure that all postings and advertisements are truthful.  In fact, it is possible for a person to copy pictures from legitimate listings or other websites and use them to create fake advertisements. 

When buying goods or services on websites like these, you should always deal with sellers who can meet you in person.  Buyers should avoid dealing with sellers who require payment via wires through MoneyGram or Western Union, or use of an escrow service.  Avoid sellers who tell you that the website that featured the ad will guarantee a transaction or provide payment protection, because these claims are not true. 

Travel agencies and certain travel websites allow those in the market for a vacation rental to search for and find reputable rentals.  These companies also take credit cards, which offer protection to a buyer that wire transfers and checks do not.

We recommend that you use classified ad websites only to buy items you can see immediately.  You can’t see a vacation rental until you arrive at your destination.  By then it’s too late to get a refund. If you paid someone who failed to deliver on the deal, then you can take action.  First, you should request a refund.  If the seller fails to respond and you have their contact information, you can take legal action against them.  If you paid by check, you can report it as theft to your local police department.  If you paid by wire transfer, you should alert the receiving bank, your local police, police in the seller’s area, and MoneyGram or Western Union, if you used their service.  In many cases, your money will not be returned, because it’s difficult to locate the scam artist who accepts money and then moves on. 

Bottom line: Unless you can see the item you are purchasing or renting in person, don’t buy it.

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