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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)

it is important to remember that the rental market is not what it was and that many people are looking for short term deals, so an agent will try to fill a listing however they can and many specialize in vacation rentals. Plus the daily rate is higher than a monthly per diem. If you own an apartment or are an agent for an owner you can usually sublet your apartment, so the shorter term rentals fall into a very shady legal area.
June 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjevelme
Really helpful article especially for someone like me who really work hard for money.

Do you know particular vacation rental "scammers" based on your experience? thanks.

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEl CId
An apartment was rented in April, 2010 for 10 days from ASLOM (www.aslom.com) in Paris, France. All was fine with the apartment and it was left in excellent condition. The security deposit of 1500 euros was to be credited to a Master card. It is now almost 4 months since vacating the apartment and the deposit has not been received. Repeated phone calls, Emails to ASLOM have not resulted in having the deposit returned; although Philippe Rey, listed as director general of ASLOM, indicated he would take care of it, but did not. A few days ago, an Email was received from Philippe Rey informing us that the company was filing for bankruptcy. We suspect this is false, and just a tactic to avoid returning the 1500 euros security deposit. This company, its director general and the owners of apartments who lease through ASLOM should be investigated by French authorities. Thanks.
August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJames
Good advice for the States too. There are a ton of rental scams with the Real Estate forclosures going on here.
August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWinkie
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 vrbo.com.
September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUnlahen
If they are listed on the Paris Tourism Office website then they are a legitimate business.
September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUnlahen
My husband and I have used ParisAttitude to rent an apartment on two separate occasions. One was for 1 1/2 months and the other was for 10 days. We had positive experiences with both and highly recommend this company. They're very professional and we had no problems at all.
September 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMissHill
The important thing is to find local contact information. long distance landlords usually a local resident employed to collect the rent checks show the property, make repairs, and so on. This person can be a part-time or full-time caretaker. You can contact book this individual to see the apartment. Make sure the number is part of a local nature.
November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJemmincoaster@gmail.com
Unfortunately both my parents were victims of apartment fraud. They came for my wedding last month and had both rented apartments via craigslist. The one my mother rented coincidentally suffered from a fire the night before her flight to Paris. The one my father rented had seemed completely legit until my father and relatives arrived at the airport and waited for the apartment owner to pick them up (as offered in the ad) and were left stranded at the airport. Fortunately, my husband's family were very helpful with providing alternative lodgings. My mother paid a deposit via Paypal, however, Paypal has refused to return the money. My father paid through MoneyBookers, and they are even worse. I have been in contact with the department of fraud (http://www.dgccrf.bercy.gouv.fr/contacts.htm) who will intervene in the case if there is correct contact information for the apartment owner. My mother is still in the process of trying to recover her funds. My father will never recover his money being that they owner's info was invalid. It's upsetting to know this happens so often, and that such can give a negative impression on travelers. However, despite it all, we still had a wonderful wedding, and my family is looking forward to returning to Paris, only this time they will stay in hotels.
February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrances
We purchased an apt. almost 5 yrs ago and rent it through VRBO and Homeaway and have not problems. We are pretty full all the time and have had good tenants and very little trouble. People are happy with the apt. and the extras we provide.

July 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie B

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