Tahoe vacation rental scams on the rise according to district attorney
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — A cheap offer on a vacation rental. Who can resist? A long weekend at Lake Tahoe with a last-minute deal would be hard to pass up.
But the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office warns: if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Office spokesman Dave Stevenson said the district attorney has seen a significant rise in vacation rental scams in the region within the last year. In response, the office released a YouTube webisode on the topic this week along with suggestions on the proper precautions visitors can take.
“It’s a big problem,” Stevenson said. “There’s been a big spike.”
According to South Lake Tahoe Police Department, the city alone saw 35 reported cases of rental fraud between October 2015 and January of this year.
“It’s been horrible,” Kathy Jo Liebhardt of Tahoe Destination Vacation Rentals said.
Two of her company’s larger properties have been used in numerous fraud cases. One group paid a scammer $8,000 for a fraudulent reservation. Often, victims don’t realize the scam until they arrive in town.
“I felt so bad for these people,” Liebhardt said, describing a few incidents that occurred during the holidays. In total, two of her properties have combined for 10 cases since November 2015.
“They like the larger properties,” she said, “because it’s bigger dollars.”
In each instance, the suspects took images from Leibhardt’s legitimate website to post fake advertisements on Craigslist. Each time, the victims paid via wire transfers to accounts with reputable banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
“Don’t use Craigslist,” Liebhardt suggested. “You’re asking for trouble.”
She also recommended always using a credit card — to ensure fraud protection — and check to make sure you are working with a legitimate company.
“Do your homework before you rent,” she said. “Really it’s common sense.”
But even verifying can be challenging. Liebhardt said that in some instances the scammer responded to victims’ phone calls through a number that was later disconnected.
Beyond Craigslist, the DA warns that some scams even include fake websites complete with false reviews.
In a recent press release, their office recommended precautions similar to the ones Liebhardt offered.
They also recommend rental companies with local addresses or known outlets with fraud protection.
If it’s an independent owner, they say to check with the county assessors office to confirm ownership, and to never do a wire transfer.
Stevenson said their public awareness campaign is all about prevention because the reality is that scammers are frequently difficult to track or prosecute.
More information can be found by clicking on the link to the district attorney’s office at http://www.edcgov.us. A link to the YouTube video is also available through district attorney Vern Pierson’s blog at http://vernpierson.us/blog.