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Schemes and Rip Offs: Vacation Home Scam - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Schemes and Rip Offs: Vacation Home Scam

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It's a trip many of us dream about this time of year, a getaway to sunny destinations like Florida.  But some snowbirds who think they're booking a great vacation home are instead getting duped by scammers.

At least 4 times in the past year Stephen Chase has had to deliver the bad news.

"She had mentioned to me that we're here to rent your house; and I said this house is not for rent," Chase said.

Scammers listed Chase's home, in one of Fort Lauderdale, Florida's best neighborhoods, on rental websites without him knowing.  They would collect the money, all Chase saw was disappointed faces.

"It's hurtful," said scammed renter Marie France Daqust.  "We work hard all year for this money and we are all happy to have this vacation to relax."

Daqust says the ad looked legit and included interior pictures.  She even signed a contract.  But it was all fake.

"We realized that we didn't have a house and we were very stressed."

She and her friends consider themselves lucky; they found another place to stay.  But she's warning other renters to be careful, and wants rental websites to better protect customers.

The websites that list these houses for rent say they're scammed too.  Many work on the honor system because they don't have the resources to check each listing.

The Better Business Bureau says these scams look small, a few thousand dollars here and there, but add up to millions stolen each year.

BBB Experts say one of the easiest ways to protect yourself is use a credit card to pay for the reservation because it limits your liability if the rental agreement turns out to be fake.

They also offer these tips to protect yourself from a variety of vacation related scams:

Don't Cruise Your Way into a Vacation Scam

Winter and spring are prime months for ocean cruises, but the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises consumers to read all of the fine print before signing up for a special cruise deal.

The BBB urges consumers to be especially cautious of unsolicited mail with offers of free or discounted cruises.  In 2011, the BBB received more than 1,300 complaints against cruise companies. While legitimate cruise companies do offer specials periodically, there are always those sneaky few that end up leaving consumers on the hook for thousands of dollars.

Many times, scammers will send numerous e-mails, postcards, and other mailings trying to get you to call them in order to claim your "free cruise."  Don't be fooled by professional looking websites. Gather as much information as you can about the business, and ask a lot of questions before signing on the dotted line.

The BBB and CruiseCritic.com recommend the following tips to consumers who are looking to book a cruise getaway:

Don't be a victim. Oftentimes, vacation scammers will use high-pressure sales tactics and make you feel coerced to buy the limited-time deal on the spot.  A reputable business or travel agent will provide any information that you request, and give you time to consider your options before booking a vacation.

Always check the business first.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Before giving a business any personal information, check out their BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org/search. Consumers can also contact the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) for information on finding a reputable travel agent.

Pay with a credit card.  For your best protection against a dishonest cruise provider, always pay for your cruise fare -- both the initial deposit and the final payment -- with a major credit card such as MasterCard, Visa or American Express.   If problems arise, you may be able to dispute the charges with your credit card company. This same protection may not apply to those using debit or check cards; it's important to confirm policies with your issuing bank before you charge.

Ensure your money is in the right hands.  After you've made a payment, review your credit card or bank statement and make sure that any applicable charges originate directly with the cruise line, not with the travel agency.  That way, you'll know that the cruise line has definitely received your money. If you must pay by check or money order, it should be made payable to the cruise line -- not to the agency or to an individual.

Get proper confirmation of your booking.  Insist on getting the actual cruise line's confirmation numbers, not just a confirmation number from your agency.  Not only will you then know that your information and money is in the right hands, but you'll also be able to pre-reserve shore excursions, restaurant reservations and spa appointments (where available) on the cruise line's website. 

Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions. Before signing on the dotted line make sure all of the details have been clearly outlined and the pricing has been thoroughly explained. Double check whether there are hidden cancellation fees, port charges, or insurance processing fees that haven't been covered. 

Consider investing in travel insurance.  Travel insurance can provide protection in the event of an accident, an illness, lost luggage, or a canceled or interrupted trip, among other things.  Follow the same steps outlined here when buying travel insurance. 

For more consumer tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-news.

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