Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nigerian Scam Hits Vacation Rental Property Owners

Fraud is an unfortunate part of our every day lives.  We must protect ourselves from identity theft, credit card and check theft and online theft.  Sometimes fraud gets us when we least expect it and thus we want to refresh your memory of ways to prevent falling victim to scams. 

Recently, the Nigerian scams have been in the news.  On the Dateline exclusive To Catch a Con Man, a reporter went undercover to investigate one of the ways the Nigerian scam works.  After they fell victim to the scam, the reporter disclosed that they were with the television show and that they knew they were being scammed.  The reporter knew what he was getting into so he never handed over any money, but not everyone is aware that they are or may be getting scammed.  We would like to remind you how you can keep this kind of activity away and keep yourself and your money safe.

Let's say you own a property and are looking to rent it out for the week.  A potential renter contacts you and requests the property and you agree to rent it to them.  The potential renter then sends you a check or money order that is over the total amount of the rental rate.  You deposit the check or money order in your bank. The renter then contacts you and says they sent too much money and asks that you refund the difference.  What’s the risk, your bank has already accepted the check?  What would you do?  Would you refund the money?  Investigate further and inquire why the check was written over? 

I hope you answered investigate further.  It may sound like an innocent mistake, but it could also be a scam.  This recently happened to a couple who own a beautiful property in Europe.  They received an inquiry about the property just like real inquiries with questions about what the property amenities are, how much it costs, and when it is available. It started to get odd when the customer was asking the following questions about payment:
 "Regarding the payment arrangement,I am assuring you that their won't be any problem because our company's associate in Europe would be paying for our holiday expenses and they have inform me that they will be making the payment via Euro french Cheque.
    The Euro french Cheque that you will receive will be in excess,has Our Basic Travelers Allowance fee will be included in the rental fee base on trust. As soon as you have receive the Euro french Cheque you would have it deposited into you account for clearance, you would deduct the rental fee and I will tell you how to send our Basic Travelers Allowance fee to my traveling agent so that he can do all paperwork's." 

The rental owner was firm that they only accept the approved type of payments and wouldn't be able to refund them the "excess" money.  The customer went on to reply:

  "I would have prefer another method of payment if i am the one paying
for the trip but you don't need to worry cause i have already spoken
with the head of our company and he said that the payment can only be
made via Euro french Cheque and am promising you that you that there
will be no problem as it will take few working days to clear in your
bank so i will appreciate if you can do this for me with good faith,so
make sure you get back to me with the details below so that you can
receive the  Euro french Cheque: via postmail."

Does this seem questionable to you?  Luckily, these property owners did not go through with the payment or issue the “refund.”   This is the trick!  The scammer knows that in many cases banks will initially accept check or money orders, however once it is determined that the funds are fraudulent, the bank will withdraw the amount of the check from your account. Not only that, but you are also out the “refund” amount you sent to the scammer.  Notice how he says that it is no problem the check will clear?  Well, it may clear initially, but days or weeks later it will be returned and the funds will be withdrawn from your account by your bank.

Another thing that could happen is they could use stolen money to do this.  In this case, if the property owner does send back the "refund", they are not only going to lose money but are also cashing in money from another person's bank account.  It's important to talk to your bank about their policies when it comes to fraud.  Should this happen to you, find out what they cover in an event fraud occurs and ask them how they can help you protect yourself.  In most cases, you will have no protection in the scenario where a check or money order is returned due to insufficient funds or fraud. 

As part of our job at, we include fraud information on our website, as well as the following important information every time someone inquires about a property:

AVOID FRAUD: Never accept a check or bank draft for more than the amount due for the rental; this is a strong indication of fraud. In cases of fraud, the guest or their agent will ask you to refund the amount of the overpayment once you have deposited the check in the bank. Even though your bank may initially accept the check, the bank may later remove the funds from your account when the check is identified as fraudulent or no funds are available in the issuer's account. 

Please stay tuned as we hear from a property owner who was directly impacted by a scam like this, losing over $4,800.00!

Here are some websites that may help you learn more about protecting yourself from fraud: has over 60,000 vacation rental properties in over 79 countries.  Perfect Places is dedicated to helping travelers find and rent vacation rental properties worldwide. Vacation Rental properties offer a compelling alternative to Hotels for travelers seeking additional space, amenities and value that Hotels are often unable to match. Perfect Places is a privately owned company headquartered in Mountain View, California