Protect Yourself From Craigslist Vacation Rental Scams

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Why vacation rentals are scam targets?

There are several reasons:

  • Vacation rentals can be pricey, so naturally, vacationers seek to save money - that's where scammers come in, offering temptingly low "too good to be true" rates or "availability" when everything else is booked. 
  • Often vacationers procrastinate and do not book well in advance. Then they are in a hurry to get something, anything for their desired dates, without thorough research or due caution. What a great opportunity for scammers to say "Hey, I have something available" and have a desperate and frazzled late-planner fall for it.
  • Scammers can be in Timbuktu (or Nigeria, or Siberia, or Ohio) and still reach their "target" anywhere else via the Internet (social media, Craigslist, and EVEN big "online travel agencies" such as Vrbo, Airbnb, etc). 
  • Scammers are virtually impossible to catch and prosecute. They can be literally halfway across the world. At best, a victim of a scam can file a police report or call the FBI hotline, but nothing will be done about it.
  • Once scammers have received the victim's payment via bank transfer, Zelle, Cash App, or PayPal "Friends and family", they just delete their email or block social media contacts.


So, what are the typical vacation rental scams?


There are several and new ones pop up every day. Scammers are hungry for YOUR hard-earned money and are very inventive when it comes to coming up with new "flavors". The most common ones are Craigslist scams and Facebook scams.

typical craigslist vacation ental scam


Oldie but goodie: Scammer puts stolen photos/descriptions on Craigslist.


A classic that has been around for a very long time.  A scammer copies photos and descriptions from a legitimate website (such as Vrbo/HomeAway, the owner's website) and creates a listing on Craigslist. They can even give an inquiring person a spiel about how they want to save you money which is why you should book by paying them directly (via bank transfer, money order, check, Zelle, Cash App, or PayPal Friends and Family). Of course, they do not own the property and will disappear once paid.

Do legitimate owners advertise on Craigslist? Yes, some do, but likely when you contact them, they will direct you to their legitimate website (like ours) where they can generate and send a written quote, take credit cards, and provide receipts.

Facebook Vacation Rental scams

As people interact more and more on social media, scammers use it to do what they always do - to scam. See more information about Facebook vacation rental scams in this post.

How to avoid being scammed?

Spot red flags, ask questions, and avoid being scammed when booking your vacation rental.

These tips apply to Facebook (or other social media) and Craigslist.

  • Search property photos via search engine image search. The search results will usually lead you to the same photo on a legitimate listing site.
  • Pay attention to the owner's name/profile photo on the various sites. Does it match across all sites? Does the name match the name that the person gave you or their name on social media?
  • Ask a LOT of questions. Craigslist may pretend to be "property managers" or "owners" BUT often will have no clear answer when asked about the area or specific property details. That is because they are often from a foreign country and have no clue about local facts. 🚩When questioned, scammers often become aggressive, and belligerent, throw around accusations, and will call you names. A legitimate owner or manager will be glad to answer your questions exhaustively.
  • Pay attention to the calendar. Are you inquiring about the dates that show unavailable for the same property on a major listing site (like Vrbo or Airbnb) but that person on Craigslist or social media claims they are available? 🚩Red flag!
  • More sophisticated scammers may send you a realistic-looking "rental agreement". Scrutinize it to see any discrepancies. Did you inquire about a cabin, but their "rental agreement" mentions "villa" or "apartment"? 🚩 Or is it too generic, just saying "accommodation"? Does the number of bedrooms match? Note the spelling  - they may spell "enquiry" where US English speakers would have spelled "inquiry".
  • Pay attention to inconsistencies. Does the listing on a major listing site (like HomeAway or Airbnb) say "No pets", but the "owner" from Craigslist or social media says pets are OK? 🚩 A listing description on a major listing site says that a given property only accommodates 6, while the person on Craigslist or social media says "It's fine if you bring 10-12 people".
  • DON'T: Pay by PayPal "Family and Friends", check, money order, bank transfer, or services like Zelle or Cash App if unsure of the legitimacy of the offering. WHY? Because those transactions are not reversible and the bank or PayPal will not protect you in case you paid a scammer.

  • DO: Pay by PayPal "goods and services" or credit cards. Many legitimate owners use PayPal, but they will invoice you and you pay using "Goods and Services" option (which is protected). Paying by credit cards is the safest and most legitimate vacation home rental owners have merchant accounts to process payments online.



  • Avoid urgency and pressure to "close the deal" ASAP. Scammers often pressure you to pay quickly and drop the price several times just to
    entice you to pay. A legitimate owner will give you a quote and let you decide whether it is something you want to pursue, without pressuring you.
  • And of course, the PRICE.
if vacation rental price sounds too good to be true


You cannot rent a Thanksgiving week in a popular holiday destination for $50 per night, with everything included, when everyone else in the 20-mile radius is booked solid at $200 per night for a comparable rental property size/type. We literally have seen snapshots of a chat where a scammer was trying to entice a potential victim by saying that they can rent a 5-bedroom cabin with pool access for 5 nights for $250! Comparison-shop for the property of the type and size that interests you for the dates that interest you to know the approximate "going rate". No legitimate owner could stay in business offering 40-50-60% discounts on the spot - that is not how it works!

  • BOOK EARLY, especially if you wish to travel during popular/high seasons (in the Smokies that would be summer, leaf season, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years).
book your vacation rental early to save money

When you book far in advance, you have a greater selection for your desired dates, and you have time to verify the legitimacy of the offering without pressure to make a rushed decision. We see a lot of scammers come out trying to deceive last-minute desperate shoppers (like ones trying to book Thanksgiving at the end of October, when most properties in the area are already booked).