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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Michelle's Hard Lesson Learned About Vacation Rentals

Michelle, who sponsored a silver cuff bracelet on my blog last month, wrote to me telling me about her recent vacation. Michelle booked a vacation property online and as soon as she left after the trip was over, was accused of breaking the shower door. A number of things happened to Michelle after that, which resulted in her bank accounts being frozen and not having access to her own money during the long weekend. You can read all the details on Michelle's blog, but I have included below some of her 'lessons learned'.

Outer Banks vacation rentals
photo via cris2cool10
This is not a picture of where Michelle stayed.

So what did I learn from this situation? A few things I would like to pass on: 

1. ALWAYS photograph any place that you rent, upon your departure. Photograph every room, including the bathroom. Make sure the date and time stamp are visible/available for review. It’s better to have photos and need to toss them later than to not have them and be defenseless. 
2. If at all possible, insist upon a walk-through with the rental management supervisor prior to your departure. Get a receipt for the walk-through with both parties’ signature. 
3. Be very wary of any rental agreement that states the rental company can bill your credit card on file for any damages. It would be better to give them a damage deposit than to find your credit card or debit account raided for damages you may not be able to prove or disprove. You may be trying to fight inappropriate charges from states away, and most credit/debit cards have time limits as to when to notify them of fraudulent charges. 
4. Do not store anything in your unit that has any type of identifying information on it. When we left for our vacation, my hubby had grabbed the mail out of the mailbox and shoved his bank statement in his overnight bag. His bag was in the bathroom where we stayed. We have no proof that this is how his information was obtained; however, in light of the other events, it is certainly suspicious. 
5. Know that if you are a victim of a similar type of fraud that the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Division in the state where the activity took place is a good place to start. They will issue a case number and possibly forward your complaint on to the Better Business Bureau. Read the Attorney General’s website to see for sure whether they will forward the complaint, as submitting a report to both entities may get one or the other kicked out of their system. 
Edited to add:
6. When researching places to stay, don't just check the reviews on the property itself. Check reviews for the property rental service, if you can tell who it is. The property itself had outstanding reviews; however, upon researching the rental company, after all this happened, I saw bad reviews on travel sites (3 out of 4 were bad).