News10NBC Investigates: Dormant during COVID, a vacation rental scam is back

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Before you get totally relaxed this weekend, News10NBC has an investigation into a growing problem. It puts families on the doorstep of a vacation rental when they realize they’ve been had.

We want to tell you about this now because this scam went dormant during COVID, but it’s coming back, and it will absolutely ruin a dream vacation.

"This is a beautiful part of the lake. Actually, it’s my favorite because we have so much sun," Else Reed said walking on the lawn of her house on Canandaigua Lake.

It is a beautiful property at the northeast corner of the lake, but this is also the site of vacation rental nightmares.

"It’s a very odd situation to all of a sudden have people standing in front of your door with suitcases and ready to move in," Reed said laughing at the absurdity of it.

Here’s what happened.

Reed posts her house for rent on her own webpage and sites like VRBO. Two summers ago, and again this spring, someone copied her post and pasted it on Craigslist, charging $165 a night, a fraction of Reed’s rental price.

On Canandaigua Lake, $165 a night is a steal. So families jump at a deal, send a down payment through the Craigslist ad and then show up only to have Reed answer the door.

"Some people get angry, angry at me believe it or not, as if it is my fault," Reed said about the reactions of families when she answers the door.

As soon as the money is sent, the ad disappears.

The real and fraudulent rentals are identical, down the script.

It’s so prevalent, the Federal Trade Commission has a specific warning about it.

Brean: "Do the scam artists in these cases ever get caught? Do they ever get arrested?"

Rosario Mendez, FTC Division of Consumer Education: "Scammers get caught. We stop scammers all the time. The problem is they come back they put another facade, another name and they do it again."

The FTC fines people caught bilking others. The federal and state attorney general offices can make arrests.

"I feel sad for these people because especially because, you know, it’s vacation. They’re happy. They’re ready to move in and have fun," Reed said. "I’m not kidding – they come with their groceries and everything ready to have fun and it’s such a bummer. It’s a total bummer. And then I’m the one who has to tell them the bad news."

Craigslist did not respond to my emails on this story but Reed says they took the post down when she flagged it.

So here are the red flags.

  • If the rental ad asks you to pay a deposit immediately and wire the money or use non-traditional methods like crypto-currently or gift cards.
  • If the price is too good. ($165 a night on Canandaigua lake is too good.)

For the property owners, do a reverse image search with the photo you post.

We did that with Reed’s home and what came up was a list of rental sites across the globe. They look legitimate. Craigslist did not come up.

Do that once a week and you will see every instance your house and your rental ad is posted.