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5 Red Flags Your Cottage Rental May Be a Scam

A gazebo in the distance on a lake

We know the pandemic continues to stifle international travel, leaving many would-be-vacationers homebound. This means Canadians are taking the opportunity to rent cottages (otherwise known as cabins), closer to home. 

With this increase in demand, most cottages have been fully booked for this summer as early as last fall, leaving some vacationers to look for cottages by other means and leaving them vulnerable to scammers, as just one example in Ontario shows

So what do you need to do to avoid falling victim to those looking to exploit the uptick in demand? Here are red flags you need to watch for: 

Related: 10 best shows to watch to feel like you’re away on vacation.

Sign 1: The renter is initiating contact with you

Supply and demand tend to ebb and flow, but logic typically follows that if demand is high, the supplier wouldn’t have trouble selling whatever it is they are looking to sell (in this case cottage rental time). If someone is going out of their way to initiate contact with you to tell you about their vacation home during a time when such bookings are hard to come by in the first place, this should be the first red flag. Avoid making yourself a mark by posting ads on sites that can be used as scammers’ playground and that may not have an adequate way to vet its users or hold them accountable. Similarly, don’t respond to unsolicited messages or emails offering you rentals. 

You may also like: 10 things you should know before buying your first cottage, according to Scott McGillivray.

Sign 2: You’re using less-recognized platforms and means to seek out the rental

Turn to trusted and industry-recognized sites (or people) to look for cottage rentals. Airbnb is one such platform, and many cottage communities have their own cottage rental management companies who set out clear rules for what’s available, what the cottage looks like, how to book and what you can expect. 

Related: Cleaning tips to get the best experience in a cottage or Airbnb rental this summer and fall.


Muskoka chairs on a dock by the lake

Sign 3: You’ve been told a contract for the duration of your stay is not necessary

As with any transaction (especially one where large sums of cash exchange hands), a contract is put in place to protect both parties. If someone is telling you that this contract isn’t necessary for the vacation you’re planning, take this as a red flag that the person is removing this level of protection and assurance and likely not for your benefit. Cottage rental companies make such contracts routine and drafting one up should not be an issue. 

See also: Scott’s Vacation House Rules.

Sign 4: You’ve been asked for an eTransfer payment in full with few personal details given

If you only have an email, or some other easily shed identifier, this is another sign you may be on the road to disappointment. While it’s typical to seek payment ahead of your stay, watch for requests that remove the option for refunds. If the contact seeks an eTransfer payment (that isn’t reversible) and ahead of your stay, you may want to insist on paying by post-dated cheque to the first day of your stay (which you can put a stop payment on), or by credit card (some offer refunds in instances of fraud). 

You may also like: Want to sleep inside a potato? 20 of the strangest Airbnb listings in the world.

Sign 5: It looks too good to be true

Simply put: don’t buy into a deal that appears too good to be true. “Deals,” “sales” or “discounts” in times of high demand, rarely add up. And if circumstances skew heavily on the side of “you just being lucky,” deeply question whether there is something more at play. Ask to visit the property ahead of time, or seek other ways to vet the renter. 

See also: Thanks to Airbnb, Twilight fans can now stay in Bella Swan’s house.


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