Beware of fake summer rentals, New Yorkers: AG warns

NEW YORK CITY — Cautious Airbnb, State Attorney General Letitia James, warned New Yorkers this week.

“Summer plans can quickly melt away if consumers aren’t careful when booking their getaway,” James said in an official warning issued Friday. “Holiday fraud happens every year, but there are ways to avoid it and protect yourself from getting burned.

“The school may be closed, but remember to do your homework – take the time to check out the host and read online reviews to make sure the vacation rentals are real and not fooled.”

Every summer, millions of New Yorkers plan trips to escape the smog, traffic, heat, sound of fireworks, potential monkeypox (why do we still live here?) and seek to rent idyllic homes they’ll enjoy for two weeks before becoming wildly bored and running back to enjoy bodega cats, picking tulips on Park Avenue and dancing in the streets (OK, yeah, I remembered why).

But without a bit of common sense, it can be easy to fall prey to an online scammer, many of whom have made their home here in New York.

So, to avoid the scam, here are some recommendations from your attorney general:

· Check the host. Make sure the renter or host has a valid address and phone number.
· Make sure the listing has reviews and read the reviews. Beware of listings on websites like Airbnb or VRBO that have no reviews listed. When reading reviews, look for multiple reviews that repeat the same phrases – this could be a sign that the reviews are fake.
· Verify that the photos weren’t stolen from another website. Use reverse image search of rental photos to make sure the photos haven’t been listed on another website.
· Communicate only via the ad site before booking. One way scammers try to trick consumers is by first posting an ad on a site like Airbnb or VRBO, then asking you to communicate directly with the host outside of the website or app to book the ad. Do not share your email address or phone number with the host or renter until your reservation is accepted.
· Only book with a credit card or debit card. Use verified payment sources such as a major debit or credit card, which can be traced back in case something goes wrong. One of the benefits of using a particular credit card is that you have certain protections under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows you to dispute unauthorized charges.
· Make payments only through the registration site. If you use a site such as Airbnb or VRBO, make all payments through the site, as they may be able to reimburse you if you are defrauded later.
· Never make transfers or cash payments. NEVER make payment using a wire transfer service or money transfer service such as Western Union, Money Gram, Zelle, CashApp or Venmo.
· Rent deposits. A security deposit may be required. As a general rule, you cannot be required to pay more than one month’s deposit. The landlord can apply the security deposit to cover any damage caused by you or unpaid rent, but must otherwise return the deposit to you at the end of the tenancy.
· Know your rights. It is illegal for a host to deny you a vacation rental because of your race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, disability, or marital status. If you believe you have been discriminated against or harassed on the basis of one of these protected classes, you can file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

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