Monday, November 19, 2012

7 Tips to Protect Your Family From Winter Resort Vacation Scams


Editor's Note: Whenever we go skiing, Mommy Blog Expert's family always stays at Winter resort rentals rather than hotels. So I'm pleased to present this guest post by California mountain vacation resort property expert Jefferson Lanz which is illustrated with images from my family's own personal ski vacations. 

Guest Post
by Jefferson Lanz
City Concierge

More and more vacationers are choosing the ease and comfort of staying in a vacation rental home rather than hotel when they travel to a resort. The hustle and bustle of a hotel aren’t always the most relaxing, the cost can be a lot higher and the creature comforts are missing. The advantages to vacation home and cabin rentals over individual hotel rooms are many, with the larger space, greater privacy and shared living areas making this choice preferred by numerous travelers especially families.
My kids with me, Mammoth Mountain, Vintage Photo
Me sledding in Big Bear in Southern California
The simple and convenient use of online vacation rental Web sites is on the rise and has become the norm for many people planning trips. Vacation lodging is being reserved through computers and smart phones, on commuter rails and lunch breaks, and while watching the kid’s soccer game. Unfortunately, vacation-rental-scam stories are also on the rise. Sadly, the scams are proliferating and horror stories are surfacing about consumers who were unaware. The last thing anyone wants to worry about is being scammed on vacation.

My daughters at the top of Mammoth Mountain, Vintage Photo
MBE's 4 Kids in the Loft of our Mammoth Condo, Vintage Photo
According to an August 2010 leading travel industry article by Tnooz, “Industry studies show that the overwhelming majority of travelers (up to 80%) select their accommodations through the Internet, and over 50% end up booking online.” 

Most vacation rental Web sites are trustworthy. As City Concierge, a local California resort reservation company points out, working with a local, legitimate and professional vacation rental Web-based business helps avoid “rip-offs” and the enticing “too good to be true” advertisements found on Craigslist,, larger national sites, or other Web sites where fraudulent perpetrators operate. 

So how can the moms and dads planning a family vacation tell the good guys from the bad guys? Not all rental scams are that obvious. There are a number of important characteristics to look for when deciding on which online vacation rental business to use and for choosing the right property.

My Hubbie, Son & Dog at a Lake Tahoe Resort, Vintage Photo
My youngest son at Big Bear with many mini snowmen, Vintage  Photo
Basics to consider
  • Is the vacation rental Web site locally or regionally-based? Real businesses have real local or regional addresses. Google their address. The vacation property itself should have an address for Google Maps verification. If it doesn’t ask a telephone agent for it. Then Google it.
  • Does the Web site business have a working phone number? Call them and talk to them, or notice how soon they return any messages left. Real businesses have real professional and knowledgeable employees who provide quality information. They also use a consistent email address in their correspondence. The email address should be the same as the domain name, not a “free” email box from Yahoo, MSN, AOL or Gmail.
  • Do they have a high quality and current Web site? Real businesses have their name the same as their Web site address (the URL). When they have good, original content on their site, such as “local activities to do”, this helps to prove their credibility.
  • When was the business started? Do they have a trademark and a business license? If they don’t provide this, do not do business with them. This is public information; you can find it easily with a search.
  • Are the photos of the vacation rentals really theirs? If the photo has a watermark on it that is NOT the same as their URL, these guys might be bogus. Fake sites steal photos from legitimate Web sites.
  • What is their payment system? Credit cards are the absolutely safest way to go, offering protection through disputed charges if something goes astray. If they want cash, wire transfers, money orders or a personal check written to their first name, run the other way.
  • 24-hour service is important. Does this company/person have a local representative that is within an hour of any service call? What happens if the heat goes out in a snow storm? Often when renting direct with an owner there is no 24/7 service which is how they compete to keep the price down. Why ruin your vacation?
Any online business is potentially susceptible to being a fraud when money and “products” are exchanged through a virtual format. Dealing with a fraudulent vacation rental “business” is like going to a car dealer that sells you a lemon – it looks really good at the dealer but turns into a nightmare on the road. 

A “buyer” should always use the same smart due diligence with an online vacation rental Web site. This way you will get what you paid for and be spared a vacation disaster. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Mammoth Mountain Pines & Fresh Fallen Snow
About the Author
Jefferson Lanz is CEO of City Concierge, an internet-based fully independent  central reservation agency that delivers a range of tourism-based vacation planning services, lodging reservations, and activity information for individuals, groups and corporate travel. The company specializes in the California mountains resort areas of Mammoth Lakes, Lake Tahoe and Big Bear California.

FTC Disclosure: No compensation was exchanged for this guest post. See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.

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