Oregon Coast Travel Experts: How to Avoid Vacation Rentals Scams
(Gleneden Beach, Oregon) - Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often. But maybe once or twice a year, out of the thousands of bookings that happen at Oregon coast vacation rentals, somebody gets scammed. (Above: Yachats)
A recent case out of Lincoln County illustrated that issue. Earlier this month, Jason S. Dimicelli of Lincoln City was arrested by Lincoln County Sheriffs for allegedly renting out vacation rentals and residential homes he did not own. Dimicelli is accused of doing this in Gleneden Beach, in Clatsop County and other parts of western Oregon. In one case, one victim was out an entire year's worth of pre-paid rent at an upscale home.
Oregon coast law enforcement and travel experts say the largest number of scams are fairly recognizable, including major red flags like asking to have money wired elsewhere, and/or lodging offers on Craigslist that are too good to be true.
How to avoid such vacation rental scams? There are several things, according to BeachHouse Vacation Rentals owner Erin Barker in Seaside, and Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputy David Hawley.
Both Hawley and Barker primarily suggest renting from a recognizable, reputable company – but even then some due diligence may be required. Throwing another wrench into the machinery is the proliferation of independent vacation rental owners, those who only rent out a single home part time, on the side – but are perfectly legitimate.
Here are some basic suggestions given by Hawley and Barker
Do not wire money elsewhere, like out of state or out of town. In fact, do not wire money period.
Do not accept payments for more than the transaction is worth – and then forward that money elsewhere. “That's a bad check scam,” Barker said.
Make sure you meet the rental owner at their office. But in the case of those single vacation rental owners who have no office, this may require other means of verification.
If you have doubts, check with the local chamber. You can even check out county tax records or water company records by calling those agencies to verify ownership.
Deputy Hawley said other red flags to look for include:
Does the home have some major things missing, or something wrong?
“Like there's no smoke detectors, maybe there's mold, or no this or no that,” Hawley said.
Look out for rental agreements signed on simple pieces of lined paper – or worse yet a napkin. But even legit-looking rental agreements may have their telltale signs.
“Some get their rental agreements online and just print them off,” Hawley said. “If it shows the website that agreement form came from, that's another red flag.”
Hawley admitted that independent rental owners with one property can present challenges to verify. Some rental scammers even have business cards and can go to great lengths to look real.
Barker said it is possible to check in on most properties using public records.
“You can possibly verify ownership of a private home by asking the water company to verify that so and so owns the property,” Barker said. “Some counties have local websites where you can verify who the property owner is. Even then, I heard a scam where the scammer represented themselves as the owner, knowing their names. So verifying address where tax records are mailed or where water bills are mailed could verify that's where you are sending payment to. It's easier to verify a legit company because they file with the Secretary of State. You can do a business search there online too.”
Barker reiterated that if sounds too good to be true, it probably is. She's even had her own experience being scammed.
“Years ago someone pretended to be us in a fake Craigslist scam,” Barker said. “Problem is they forgot to change the phone number and so we got calls. Told everyone we do not manage the home anymore and do not send money.”
Hawley said these folks can be sneaky. He strongly suggested not to meet purported owners at the home, especially if they are representing a vacation rental business with multiple properties that does have an office.
In the case of the man in Gleneden Beach this month, he was a maintenance man for properties that were being resold and had even managed to change the locks on some of the homes. He, like many other scammers, initially have real reasons to be at the homes and plenty of access.
“There have been housekeepers at rental properties who took it upon themselves to rent out the vacation home when it was vacant,” Hawley said.
Hawley said in Lincoln County there are on average perhaps two cases a year where someone is asked to wire money in some sort of rental scam. In that county, only about every two or three years does someone fall victim to a ruse like the one Dimicelli is accused of.
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