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.
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. :)