We used to be the only people we knew who listed our home up for short-term rental while we traveled. These days, everyone seems to be doing it. But with the surge in short-term rentals has come a surge in ever-present short-term rental scams. We’ve never been caught up in one ourselves (fingers crossed, knock on wood!). But last year we came within a hair’s breath of handing over cash to a fake would-be guest.
Only a few weeks out from a 2-month trip with no tenant to help defray our travel costs, I was delighted to get an inquiry from a woman who (purportedly) was bringing a child to California for a course of medical treatment. Everything sounded fine for the first few exchanges.
Do you have availability for the above dates and would your house
be ok for a 3 year old child who has no mobility and is going to California for special treatment.??? AnD what would the total price be for 46 nights.?? Thanks Jackie
If I’d really been paying attention, the sloppy email with its extra question marks would have raised a red flag. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t. I was too anxious for someone to rent our home.
Thanks for asking about renting our home from the end of April until the middle of June this year. If you would like to send a phone number, we’ll be glad to call so we can discuss whether it would be right for you and your child.
The response came quickly in a polite, well-written email, very unlike the first.
Good afternoon Janis,
Thanks for your reply. I shall be in my office in around two hours from now for at least 2 hours so if you would like to ring me my number is Palma de Mallorca, Spain 0035 971 XXXXX. If this is difficult for you let me have your number and I can ring you.
I will look forward to speaking to you as this is a very special 3 year old child who has no mobility at all and is coming for hospital treatment to see if they can help him out. The parents have been raising money with special events, like football matches and small markets, since he was born and have finally managed to get enough money together for them to do this trip. I really admire them.
I will wait for your call within a couple of hours then.
Thank you very much.
Ah. She was an agent for someone else. Well, that might be okay, I thought. I called the number she’d sent. No answer, no voicemail. So I sent another note to check the number.
I am back in the office now if you want to call me that would be nice.
Thanks Jackie Carney
I tried the number again. Oddly, the Spanish number I dialed seemed to be going to Bulgaria. But even that didn’t stop me.
Jackie, I just tried to call you at the number you sent in your earlier email, and the call disconnected. I’m a little confused, though. You said you were in Spain, but the call seemed to be going to Bulgaria. Please clarify. Thanks.
“Jackie” was very patient, giving me the precise dialing instructions I had already followed, but pointedly ignoring my question about Bulgaria.
This is the way to dail from usa to spain. I have put my home number down now and will be awake for a couple of hours more. To call Spain from the U.S., just follow these simple dialing directions:
First dial 011, the U.S. exit code.
Next dial 34, the country code for Spain
and finally the phone number (9 digits).
Ah. I finally came to my senses as the smell of rotten fish began emanating from my laptop. Scolding myself for being so dumb, I shut it down and went back to choosing the shoes to pack for our trip. She’ll get the message and disappear, I thought. But she wasn’t ready to give up. Her next email popped up as soon as I logged back in.
Please answer me ref any mobility problems my clients may have in your house and I will send you payment today.
The offer to send payment was a huge red flag (not to mention that she’d spelled my name wrong). Feeling foolish that I had let the interchange go on so long, I ignored the email and picked up some other work. But my silence only made Jackie more insistent.
TThe name of the clients is Sandra Villanueva and they will be arriving from
San Francisco on the 30th April around lunchtime, so if you can give me your telephone number they can call you when they leave San Francisco. Also I need the address and any more information you can give me. Also I need an invoice in the Name of [she quoted the name and address of a real tour company in Mallorca] for the full amount please. Thanks Jackie
Now I was angry. I sent one last, terse email.
I’m sorry, but we will be unable to rent out home to this family.
“Jackie,” however, wasn’t ready to give up. Only moments later, her final email appeared in my inbox.
What is the problem please???
That was it. I realized that we’d nearly fallen for a very common scam: the scammer sends payment, often for more than the quoted amount, and immediately requests a refund, citing a reason you can’t ignore, such as a death. Or the scammer sends payment for more than the quoted amount and requests a refund of the overpayment. After you’ve sent the refund, the scammer’s payment fails to clear and he or she is nowhere to be found. I really should have known better – the signs were all there – sloppy initial email followed by one with a very different tone; poor child needs help; disconnected phone call originating from Bulgaria, not Spain; insistence on sending payment immediately; request for our phone number and address.
“Jackie” was a reality check, a reminder always to heed the signs that something isn’t right. Scammers like her (if she was a her) constantly troll for trusting homeowners like us. In the end, I felt almost grateful for her persistence. I learned (or re-learned) something essential: To avoid getting hooked by these kind of short-term rental scams, trust, but always verify, and always pay attention.
See more on short-term rental scams.