In the past few years Ocean City has been experiencing an alarming increase in scammers related to summer vacationers. Currently, the internet seems to be the most popular “weapon of choice.”
How vacation rental scams work
With the use of social media and advertising sites on the rise, there is likewise a rise in individuals advertising properties they do not own. These unscrupulous people do their homework and often have accurate interior pictures of the property. These pictures are shown to prospective renters in an attempt to bring a level of comfort and encourage a rental agreement.
When the perpetrator explains he, as a solitary owner, does not accept credit cards, the unsuspecting renter willingly places a money order or certified check in the mail.
In some cases keys are actually mailed to the victim. However, when the renter shows up at the location, the building (or unit) does not exist, or the keys do not work and/or the unit is owned by another individual.
This situation leaves the tenant with the loss of their vacation money and without a place for their family to enjoy a summer getaway.
Unfortunately, there is little law enforcement can do when it comes to internet scams like these.
Property owners are not exempt.
Owners also suffer the effects of these scammers. A number of the owners/victims have found their property being advertised for rent, at a discounted price, with full pictures of the actual condo.
One owner arrived in town to find his locks were changed. Another owner found the water to his condo was turned on, even though he always left it off while he was away. Further, the interior showed signs of use. Unfortunately, there were no witnesses to see the break in, or at least none that took note or thought it was unusual for the unit to have occupants from time to time.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help avoid scammers.
The keys cannot be duplicated.
- Install radio-controlled thermostats.
These thermostats will notify you if the temperature is changed on the thermostat.
- Check your electric bill.
The utility bill gives a graft of charges that includes the times and days of higher usage. It is fairly obvious if someone is using your unit by the spike in the invoice.
- Arrange for your REALTOR or someone local to check your unit periodically.
- Compare online prices from local rental companies to see if the rates are in line.
Local real estate companies list prices on their sites.
The Chamber is an excellent source of information.
- Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation provides information on information of property owners.
Learning the name and address of the owner of the property may make it easier to determine to whom you are speaking.
- Check Ocean City’s Town Hall.
There is a requirement that all property owners that are renting their unit must apply for a rental permit through the city. As a result of that law, the city can confirm if that unit is registered as a rental property.
Perhaps the safest avenue you could take would be to contact a local (LICENSED) professional real estate agent. It takes only seconds to verify a licensed agents’ legitimacy. The Maryland Real Estate Commission has an online license query for your convenience.
With a little time and preparation, you can hopefully protect your property or vacation and avoid those internet bandits !