ATLANTA – Many Georgians are starting to think about summer travel plans. While some will opt for traditional hotel stays, many will look online in hopes of finding less expensive or more unique accommodations. Unfortunately, ads for online vacation rentals are not always what they seem. The state Attorney General’s Office is encouraging Georgians to exercise caution if choosing to book accommodations from an online platform.
“As Georgia begins to resume normal operations safely and appropriately, we support Georgians and out-of-town visitors who want to travel to our world-class tourism destinations,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “When making plans, know that paying for a rental stay without the benefit of viewing the property or communicating with the owner can carry certain risks. We have put together some tips to help you fully vet your travel plans and do proper research so you do not end up with inferior accommodations or lose money to a scammer.
The AG’s Consumer Protection Division offers the following tips to travelers:
Traditional Hotels and Motels
Make sure you understand the refund and cancellation policies before you book your reservation get those terms in writing.
Ask about taxes and fees. When budgeting for your stay, you will want to be aware of and factor in sales tax, as well as state and local hotel taxes. This may equal roughly 15 percent of the hotel rate. Some hotels may also charge “resort fees” for certain amenities.
Review your confirmation carefully to make sure that it matches what you asked for in terms of the number and size of beds, smoking versus non-smoking room, ocean view, etc.
Online Property Rental Sites
Use only reputable, well-known and insured travel sites that have a process for verifying homes and hosts.
Keep all communications and payment transactions on the travel platform – even if the host offers you a lower rate if you pay him/her directly. Never wire money or provide credit card information to the host.
Review the cancellation and refund policies carefully before you book the trip.
Read the property description thoroughly. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the accommodations, shared spaces, amenities, access to public transportation, and distance to restaurants and popular attractions.
Email the host with any questions. For example, if it is a shared space, find out how many other people you will be sharing a bathroom with. Will the owner be on-site? Are there pets on the premises? Is there noise from street traffic, trains or subways?
Read the host’s profile and as many reviews of the property as possible. This is an excellent way to “vet” the listing. Did other guests find the space clean, quiet, conveniently located? Did the accommodations match the host’s description? Was the neighborhood safe? Was the host responsive and easy to communicate with?
Check out the location. Consider checking the location and neighborhood through Google Earth or Google Street View to get a sense of whether you would feel safe and comfortable staying there.
Online Classified Ads on CraigsList, Social Media Sites, etc.
Be extra vigilant if booking accommodations through these sites as there is generally no vetting process for the people placing the ads, no insurance against fraud, and there may not be the ability to handle payment transactions through the site itself.
Scammers have been known to place fake listings on sites such as these in which they post photos and addresses of other people’s homes. Consumers pay up-front and then show up at the property only to discover that the actual residents have no idea that their property was listed for rent.
If you decide to go this route, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Do an internet search to see if the address in question is listed elsewhere under another owner’s name.
Pay with a credit card so that if the listing turns out to be fraudulent, you can dispute the charge and request a chargeback from the credit card issuer.
Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about the transaction, don’t go through with it.
Consumers should report vacation scams to the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting consumer.ga.gov or calling (404) 458-3800.