Personal experience with Craigslist Vacation Rental Scam

A few weekends ago, my brother had his graduation ceremony in Los Angeles.  We were very excited about it as it was a big family get-together to celebrate the graduation.  My brother had booked a place near Venice beach at Santa Monica,  California.

While driving to Los Angeles, I noticed my brother checking his email frequently.  When I asked him if anything was wrong, he responded  “I am looking for an email from the host to confirm receipt of  50% advance” .  I was a bit surprised with the response, but figured that if someone booked a place from VRBO or Homeaway, it could be a standard practice that not everything is buttoned up till the day of the trip.  After a few hours, he started getting more worried as he had still not heard back from the host.  When I asked him to give the host a call, I was surprised to find out that he never received a phone number from the host.  I checked all the documents – they looked professional, but no contact information of the host at all, which was weird!

We reached the address around 11pm and that’s when our worst nightmare was confirmed – The house was exactly what we saw in pictures, but no one was there – no host, no keys, NOTHING!  We looked around and was lucky to run into a neighbor who told us that the house belonged to a prominent person and to the best of his knowledge, it was not a vacation rental.  Yes, we got scammed!

Here is my post-mortem of the situation:

Things done right:

  • Confirmed the address at google maps though he has booked the place from Craigslist.  He knew that the house did exist!
Things that could have been done differently:
  • Using a cheque instead of a credit card
  • Not checking the number to call beforehand and not knowing clearly how the key would be delivered to him
  • Not using a site that safeguards against scams such as these
How you can avoid such a situation:
  • Communicate enough with host without sharing much personal information
  • Use credit card to pay any upfront amount
  • Book properties from reputed sites that provides protection from scams such as these.  For example, we at Zaranga will not remit your funds to the hosts till a day after check-in unless the host is certified by us
  • Watch for red flags such as when hosts pressure you to act fast by letting you know that you’ll lose out if you don’t decide quickly
Since this experience, I have heard similar horror stories from other people who have booked places from listing sites such as Craiglist, VRBO etc.  Be very careful when you find places to rent and follow some of the suggestions outlined here.  If readers have other suggestions on how to avoid a similar experience, we would benefit from hearing from you.
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One response to “Personal experience with Craigslist Vacation Rental Scam”

  1. zencocoon says :

    Sorry to hear about such unpleasant experience that you had.

    Nice to hear your advices and precautions, however I do not agree with:

    ”When the host pressure you to act fast, warning that others are interested and you’ll lose out if you don’t decide quickly. This is a red signal.”

    I’ve been in the vacation rental business for over 20 years and we often warn travelers that the period they aim is highly required and they need to act fast. I don’t think that should be considered as a red flag.
    It can either be used as a marketing technique or simply, as we do, as a nice warning that if they do like this villa, they should act fast due to the high demand.

    However, owners contact details and address are highly recommended to be checked so as credit card payments, they bring additional confidence and insurance to both parties.

    Thanks for sharing your experience,

    Séb –


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