Enjoy Your Vacation And Avoid Scams


“Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” At least it is according to the classic song from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but don’t be an easy summer mark for unscrupulous operators. Of course swindlers operate year ‘round, but certain scams are more likely to pop up in the summer months. Here are four summer scams and how to avoid them.

The ‘Great’ Vacation Rental Hustle.

Usually this rip-off originates with a Craiglist ad for a an eye-catching vacation rental property at an even more eye-catching low price. To reserve your dream cottage by the beach or in the mountains or near your kids’ favorite theme park all you have to do is send a down payment—usually by FedEx or wire transfer. (Scammers avoid the US mail because of the stiff penalties assessed for mail fraud.) After that usually one of two things will happen. The first is nothing. You never get the rental contract and you never hear from the scammers again. Or the second possible outcome is that you actually get a contract and sign it. Then when you arrive you find the property locked up or not even remotely like what the ad promised or the photo of the alleged rental property showed.

The best way to avoid being hustled is to avoid free online classified ad services like Craigslist for a vacation rental, the Better Business Bureau advises. Instead use AirBNB or VRBO who offer protection against fraudulent rental listings.

The Summer Job Scam.

Summertime ushers in onrush of kids who are out-of-school and looking for work. Unfortunately there is also an onrush of con artists who are looking to take advantage of them. One scam is to get young applicants to give up personal information like their Social Security number for alleged ‘tax purposes’.  Much too late, kids find out that their identities have been stolen. The best defense is to run a thorough background check on any company offering employment and to remember that an employer would only need your Social Security number after you have been hired. Also, if a potential employer asks for an advance payment for a credit check, supplies, training materials, or anything—run! No legitimate company will ask you to pay them. Another fishy trick that con artists will try is to send you an advance on your salary which is too large due to some alleged ‘accounting error’. Then they request you send them a partial refund. Their check will bounce and you will be out whatever amount of money you sent them. Don’t fall for this trick.

The Secret Shopper/Gift Card Swindle.

Another fake employment-like dodge is to lure you via social media or a phony email into become a ‘secret shopper’. If you agree, then the criminal will send you a very large check and ask you to purchase gift cards. The fraudster will promise that you get to keep a portion of the money to pay you for being a ‘secret shopper’. You will be asked to email photos (front and back) of the gift cards, so the fraudster can start using them right away. The lie is—and you guessed it—after processing time which may take days or even weeks your bank bounces the check and you’re on the hook for the full amount. The best defense here is to never, never, ever deposit a check for someone you don’t know and haven’t met face-to-face and send them money, gift cards, or anything of value.

The “I’m in Your Neighborhood” Contractor Con.

Just as the better weather brings people out their homes, it also brings out a spate of unscrupulous home improvement contractors. This is a typical scenario: A contractor stops by unannounced and says he just happens to be painting, or siding, or repaving or installing new windows or whatever at a nearby house and will do the same work for you at an unbelievably low price. You agree. They take a hefty down payment and are never seen again or they show up but do shoddy work.

Don’t get sucked in. The BBB warns that you should be very wary of anyone offering to do unsolicited repair work. Instead get contractor referrals from friends, family, or co-workers. Check potential contractors with the BBB and verify that they have met licensing and registration requirements.

To avoid these scams and all the other cons, there are a couple of good general rules to apply. Check out the company or individuals you plan to work with before agreeing to anything. And keep this mantra close to heart: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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