As vacation rental hosts, we have unfortunately experienced a vacation rental scam first-hand. We want to share with you our story, to help you avoid vacation rentals scams like this in the future.
Here is the story of the vacation rental Grinch who stole Christmas.
Around Christmas time of 2019 the unimaginable happened to us as Airbnb hosts.
We had a two-week availability in December. We received a request to book the two weeks from a single man. We took a look at his reviews on Airbnb and his last review was bad. The last host alleged the guest was a liar, broke things, and overall was not a good guest. His other reviews were good, so we thought we would take a chance and approve his two-week booking request. Big mistake.
On the surface of things, his two week stay was largely uneventful. It was not until after he checked out that his scam came to light.
Our next guest had checked in and was leaving the vacation rental to head out to a lovely dinner. As they exited the vacation rental, they encountered a young woman walking towards the vacation rental. The young woman asked the guests if they knew a David Fino, and the guests replied they had no idea who that was. The guests stated they rented the condo on Airbnb from the owner, Nick Foster. The young woman told the guest she had paid a David Fino to rent the condo as a short-term rental. She had a key that worked on the front door. I received a call from my guest and rushed over to swap out the front door locks and to give our guests new keys.
Upon arriving at the vacation rental I noticed two portable AC units, and other equipment in the condo, had been stolen. I called the police and it turns out the police were already on top of it. They had already interviewed the fist victim of the vacation rental scam. The first of many to come forward.
Over the following weeks, more and more victims contacted the Police. The story was almost always the same. They found the vacation rental listed on Craigslist under Mr. Fino’s name, the victims signed a lease with him, and paid him money. When they went to test their door keys, they no longer worked, and they realized they had been scammed.
Here is the NBC 7 San Diego news story that covered the elaborate scam.
How Can Hosts and Guests Avoid Vacation Rental Scams Like This
1. Install smartLocks
Every Haustay vacation rental has smart locks. If we take on a new property for management, the first thing we do is replace the existing locks with smart locks if they are already not installed. With smart locks hosts give a guest a one-time access code, which is turned on the day of their stay and turned off the day of check-out.
How Mr. Fino was allowed to pull off his elaborate scam was the vacation rental was using a lock box with keys inside. Mr. Fino took those keys and made an unknown amount of copies, handing them out to each scam victim to build credibility in his scam.
While a con man could still give out the one-time code during their stay, it will be immediately deleted upon check-out. Removing the need for replacing locks and getting new keys for the vacation rental.
2. If a deal sounds too good to be true it likely is
In our story Mr. Fino listed our fully furnished vacation rental that sits one block from the beach at $650.00 per a month. The average rental rate for an empty condo in our area is a monthly rental around $2,000.00 per month. If it sounds too good to be true it likely is.
3. Ask for proof of ownership of the property.
When renting a vacation rental from a person you have never met, ask for proof of ownership. A property owner can easily provide you a copy of their local utility bill (water, gas, electricity, etc.), their deed, or their recent tax bill. If you ask for a bill proving the property is in their name and they are unable, or are unwilling to provide it, then you cannot be sure they own the property.
4. Book your vacation through websites with credibility
Book through vacation rental property management companies that hold a real estate license. If you are booking through a booking platform such as Airbnb, VRBO, or Booking.com, read the site reviews. Haustay Vacation Rentals often have over 100 reviews per property, maintaining the highest level of reviews and customer satisfaction.
In our story the guests were working with Mr. Fino through craigslist. A platform that does not provide user reviews and that does not verify ownership of a property.
5. Sign contracts & exchange money at a police station.
If you are uncertain if you are being scammed. Request the host to meet you at a police station to sign a lease agreement and to exchange money. This will likely scare off many scammers and if the host is legit, he will not worry about meeting you there.