BALTIMORE — Travelers looking to get away while staying safe are opting for vacation rentals over hotels.
Renters are willing to pay more for a kitchen and other living spaces, so a discount for booking directly with the owner seems enticing, but you may want to think twice about the offer.
Suzanne Swisher’s parents were looking to head to Florida over the winter. They’re usual spot had sold, so they started searching for a new place.
"We narrowed it down and found one they’re very interested in," said Swisher.
It was a newly renovated condo steps away from the beach. Swisher found it on VRBO, a vacation rental site.
She reached out to the owner on her parent’s behalf, and the owner suggested they move the conversation to social media.
"Something just didn’t seem right. I looked up the owner’s name on Facebook and it was like a very outdated picture with a couple of friends. I looked at the reviews on the VRBO listing, and there was nothing very current, it was like 2018 and 2019 and not even that many," Swisher said.
But on Facebook, the owner was offering a deal. She'd give Swisher's parents a $380 discount for booking directly with her to avoid VRBO site fees.
The owner also contacted Swisher’s parents.
"When I looked at my mother’s Facebook, and she doesn’t really use Facebook, it was a completely different name and different person that had submitted the request," said Swisher.
This confirmed her suspicions, however, the person had already called her dad, and he gave his credit card number over the phone.
"It was a nonrefundable payment of $1,400 something," said Swisher.
Swisher had her dad cancel his card and she flagged the listing with VRBO.
"I called VRBO support and gave them the listing number and they said they didn’t have any listing with that number," Swisher said.
Her hunch is this was a fake listing and the scheme was to secure deposits outside of the VRBO website.
VRBO offers a "Book with Confidence Guarantee" that protects 100 percent of customer's payments and security deposits when they book their stay with VRBO’s online checkout. Transactions outside of the site don’t come with the same protections.
Aside from sticking to the platform, Swisher also recommends reading the reviews, making sure there are current ones, googling the address, and having good communication with the owner.
Fortunately, Swisher's parents canceled their card before any charges posted.
WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii reached out to VRBO for more information on how they vet listings on their site. She's waiting to hear back.