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Avoid vacation apartment rental scams

We've all heard the stories of vacation rentals that don't look at all like the photos, or worse, don't even exist. So if you're thinking of renting a vacation apartment for your next trip to Paris, and want to make sure that you don't get scammed, here are a few tips.

First of all, only rent through a reputable agency. These can be found on this site or through the Tourism Office website. Generally, a reputable agency will have their address and phone listed on their website. Beware "anonymous" ones. They may only be scamming the tax man, not you, but for peace of mind insist at least on this. And verify that the agency is guaranteeing the rental, not just listing the owners info on their site.

If you want to get a better deal by renting direct from an owner, through Craigslist, or through other online or print ads (there are so many), there are some precautions to follow:

- NEVER send deposit money via MoneyGram, Western Union, or any other type of money transfer system that can't be tracked to a personal account. Pay with a credit card or through PayPal so that you can recover your money if there is a dispute.

- Always ask for proof that the person renting you the apartment is really the owner: ask to see ID and a recent electric or telephone bill in their name with the address of the apartment.

- Ask for references and check them.

- Google the property and the owner online (the Pages Blanches at www.pagesjaunes.fr will even show an image of the building). Unless they're on the blocked list, they should appear on the White Pages listing (my name shows up, for example, but only with phone and zip code, not the full address).

- Be immediately on guard if the owner's email is full of bad grammer or odd-sounding English, if the owner isn't in Paris and asks you to send the money to another city and/or person, and other telltale signs like ads that don't match the photos.

Some other articles on the subject can be found here and here (scroll down a bit).

Amazingly (and sadly), there is a whole site about scammers using CraigsList Paris here (again, scroll down past the names to read the comments) and another scam victim speaks out here. Some of these are from owners, who also get scammed by fake renters, which should go to show a legit owner will be as wary as you are.

I have heard many people say NOT to ever send a copy of your ID to an owner because then they will use this as their own fake ID. Again, if you are renting through an agency, you won't have to deal with any of these issues.

Personally, I have rented apartments direct from owners without problems, but I always had a back-up plan (the nearest hotel with an available room), wasn't traveling with all of my family for the first time in a country where I don't speak the local language, and didn't send such a huge deposit that I it would end my vacation if I had been scammed.

I don't want you to become paranoid, just a bit more street smart. Of course, that's good advice for traveling in general. :)

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Reader Comments (31)

Heather - Love your blog and we highlight it on ours: http://kathieandjacksonsbigadventure-maisoui.blogspot.com/

I totally agree with your comments - better safe than sorry. However, it is sometimes difficult to convince an owner they need to have a PayPal account! We did use an agency and have just started our 3 month dream vacation in Paris and having a great time!
April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackson

Not sure if this contradicts your advice or not, but I have used Vacation Rentals By Owner for several years now and have never had a problem. Their website is www.vrbo.com.

They offer places all over the world. I've probably used them a half dozen times now, and it's been a great experience each time. Hope that helps.

April 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Guilford
To complete this article, I would say that it is important to privilege owners established as company (SARL or SCI in France)) and offering all the guarantees necessary for short term rentals (insurances, invoicing, etc.).

Indeed, if you realize a rent with a private individual, it is not rare that its accommodation is not insured for vacation rental and you will be exposed to major risks in case of disasters!
May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAurelien Hornuss
Hi Heather,

I'm wondering if you've used/heard of parisattitude.com. It seems legit (has Paris address, phone number, there are stories on other sites about having no problems with it). But they are also very good deals, and ask for large upfront payments and ask to pay the owner directly. Any idea?

Thanks :)
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBronwyn
If they are listed on the Paris Tourism Office website then they are a legitimate business.
February 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
Great resource. Its nice to see an article that is really useful for tourists before they go!
February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOgunquit Vacation Properties
I rented an apartment for 11 days. I sent the landlord 200 Euros to secure the deal. When I arrived, I moved in I gave the proprietor another approximately 600 Euros plus another 100 security deposit. That was Friday.

It turns out that the apartment is next to a disco tech and the noise at night is intolerably loud, music blasting, screaming, people apparently throwing up or choking, loud voices in the street and from in the club. It sounds like the apartment is in the middle of the disco. Apparently, disco and the apartment share a common wall. I have not slept and I wonder if I have any recourse other than beg the landlord to have mercy on me and refund my money so I can rent a hotel room or something.
April 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSleepless in Paris
Sleepless in Paris: Yes, you should conact the owner and ask for your money back. Did you go through an agency?
April 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler
Sadly it was a Craig's list contact and no agency was involved. I have had luck with Craig's list in the past. This time the owner, who's name I will leave out for now was deceptive in not being up front about the fact that my apartment was directly over an adjacent to a disco tech. I acted stupidly in giving her any money up front. But I didn't discover the problem until Saturday night when I had already been here a couple of days. When I went to talk to her she said I should go over and talk to the manager of the disco about the noise. While this is an unaccpetable answer, I am unsure I have any recourse if she says no. I am trying to keep a cool head about this and not get upset and ruin my vacatioin. What should I do if she refuses to refund my money? By the way, thanks for the advice.
April 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSleepless in Paris
I don't think it's up to you to go and talk to the club owner about the noise. What's he going to do? Close? No, the owner of the flat shuold have told you about the club and possible noise before you rented it (some people would be happy to be so close to a club if they want to go out all night). Tell her you want your money back for the nights you're not staying there and go to a hotel. If she refuses tell her you will report her to Craig's List and put her name and her address on this website. Just try and give her the option of giving back your money nicely first. And next time, be more careful about trusting strangers on the internet!
April 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler

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