In this blog: I’ll show you how to avoid getting scammed when looking online for ski accommodation.
The hardest part of planning any longer length ski trip is finding good accommodation. You can’t stay in hotels because it’s too expensive long term, so the main option for most people is renting a room or house through local classifieds and online listings.
There’s one issue with this…. there are A LOT of scams on these classifieds and listings. Ski towns have a higher amount of accommodation scams because snowboard bums, like you and me, aren’t usually familiar with the area and a lot of us start looking for accommodation before we’re actually physically in the ski town.
More often then not, a large majority of accommodation available will be through private local listings with individuals, instead of established real estate / season accommodation companies.
To give you an idea of how common these scams are, I’ve been searching Craigslist (popular online classifieds board in US/Canada) for my upcoming winter accommodation and just this month alone has seen me go through 4 scammers already.
So to help you avoid these scammers, here are the common signs of an accommodation scam and what you can do to avoid them:
1) Out of state/country rental
Be extremely careful if the person offering the rental either says they are away on holiday/work or they live in another state/country.
Claiming to be outside the area is a common method most scammers use to avoid showing you the accommodation and to avoid talking to you on the phone.
Now not every single person out of state will be a scammer, after all there are people who rent out rooms in their holiday home, but it’s usually a flag to be more careful and to make sure you talk to the person and check out the accommodation in person before you commit to anything.
2) The deposit scam
Scammers love to tell you they are getting lots of responses and need a deposit just to secure your accommodation. In particular, they’ll almost always ask for this deposit via western union or a similar hard to track method.
Anytime someone mentions a deposit via western union, you should have alarm bells going off in your head.
Also, when it come time to pay your security deposit and 1st month’s rent to move in, you should make sure you get the keys and sign a lease at the same time. If they say they’ll mail you the keys after you pay them, I can guarantee you it’s a scam.
This is why dealing locally is recommended because it means you know who you’re dealing with and can physically pick up keys when you give them your hard earned money.
3) Fake photos
Many scammers will go the extra mile and send you photos of the accommodation to appear more legit. These photos are usually stolen photos from other accommodation listings.
Never assume an accommodation listing is real just because they have photos.
Here’s a simple method I use to check for fake photos.
Google actually has it’s own search engine that will let you upload a photo or enter a link to a photo and it’ll search for similar looking photos online. This way you can stick any photos you get and it’ll find any other places that photo exists.
You can find that search engine here: Google search by image
This only takes a few minutes to do and it’s the simplest way to see if the photos you’ve received are taken from other accommodation listings.
4) Renting a room/home they don’t own
One common trick is the scammer will try to rent out a place they don’t actually own. It’ll be a real place, except the owner has nothing to do with them.
If anyone says they can’t let you see the room/house they’re renting, it usually means it’s a scam and they don’t even own the place they’re trying to rent out.
The bottom line:
It all comes back to being physically in the ski town and renting locally. I know you want to get accommodation sorted out early and doing it online before you get there would be great, but with individual classified ads it’s very risky to book while out of state.
The problem with local classifieds is most of them aren’t rental companies that you’re dealing with, they’re individual people and if they run away with your money you’re going to have a hard time tracking them down.
If possible, you are far better off sucking it up and paying for a cheap motel/backpackers for a week or two while you search for long term accommodation in person because it means you can avoid most of the risks of dealing with online classifieds.
If securing accommodation in advance is a must, I recommend going through an established rental company. You’ll pay a premium, but it’s 100 times safer than paying some random person in advance and hoping the accommodation is there when you arrive.