Consumer Reports: Beware of vacation scams

NEW YORK (WABC) -- 'Tis the season to book summer vacation but Consumer Reports says beware of vacation rental scams that can pack a very nasty surprise. Criminals are hacking into the email accounts of owners of rental properties, and defrauding renters out of a lot of money.

Kathie Grealish is proud of the summerhouse she rents out with a beautiful view of the water. But she was shocked recently to get a call from a woman who thought she had a signed contract for the house.

"She said our family is coming and we're looking into renting bicycles. I said, 'I don't, this name does not sound familiar," said Grealish.

Kathie lists her house on V-R-B-O, a popular vacation rental site. Apparently a scam artist had hacked into her email and posing as her, sent a forged contract. It listed a foreign bank and told the renter to send more than three thousand dollars.

"That's just one of the tricks that criminals use to steal your money and ruin your vacation. Another ploy? They lure you with properties that are in foreclosure or don't even exist," adds Grealish.

Consumer Reports found many complaints of vacation fraud with a simple online search.

To protect yourself, before you send any money, call the owner and develop a business relationship. That way you can assess the legitimacy of the listing and the person's right to rent it.

"How you pay is also important. Never use payments like wire transfers, cashier's checks, money orders. They don't provide protection in the event of fraud," said Tobie Stanger.

The safest ways to pay are by credit card, PayPal or by using the payment transfer option on the rental website.

Consumer Reports also recommends using the website Flipkey if you want to rent a house or apartment. It conducts background checks on landlords and makes sure the properties are legitimate so you can avoid a vacation disaster.

Consumer Reports says you might also consider rental guarantee insurance. The vacation websites V-R-B-O and Homeaway provide 10-thousand dollars of coverage for 39 dollars.

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