Travel Reporter Gets Burned On London Vacation Rental Scam

New York Times “Frugal Travel” reporter Seth Kugel thought he got a great deal when he rented a London flat for a pittance, only to have it disappear along with his wired deposit.

Burned! A London Vacation Rental Scam [Frugal Traveler]


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  1. Nighthawke says:

    Whups, wrong person to scam bucko. You’d better be on the next Chunnel train bound for France.

  2. MaliBoo Radley says:

    Frugal Kugel?

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    You know, I do think he should have seen it coming still, but he does say that it’s very common in Brazil (where he lived for two years) for people to pay for things using bank transfers. So you know, he’s very used to it being done…in Brazil. The biggest lesson here is that just because cultural norms exist in one country doesn’t mean they exist in another. If paying by bank transfer isn’t a widely accepted practice in that country, don’t do it just because you have a fleeting idea that the person you’re in contact with comes from a country with different norms.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      There was a whole NPR segment on This American Life about Brazil’s economy, and how messed up it was, and how prices on things would change hourly etc…

    • GeekChicCanuck says:

      Wiring money is also very common in Europe. So the cultural norm excuse to bash the OP doesn’t wash.

      There were other red flags but the wired money issue is not one of them.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I wasn’t bashing him. I said the takeaway is that you need to remember that what you’re used to might not be the same elsewhere. Is wiring money like this common in England? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly if I had a rental property and someone were to want to wire a downpayment, I’d say no.

  4. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Red flags, right off the bat: Craigs list, rental, and Wired Money. And this guy is a travel reporter?

    • Tim says:

      If you read the article, you’ll see that the price was very close to something you’d expect to pay there and wiring money is very common in some countries. Yes, he should have seen those red flags, but as a professional traveler, he sees things like that all the time that are legitimate.

      • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

        But, he has friends in London? Can’t they check it out? or arrange for them to work out a safer money transfer? Better yet, couldn’t he have those “friends” find a place, or stay with them?

        Also, London is NOT Brazil. And, c’mon, Craigs list? I quote:

        “As the Craigslist scam information page (which I wish they forced you to read before clicking on an ad) notes: “NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM, or any other wire service — anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.””

        • RvLeshrac says:

          I have an issue with disclaimers like that.

          I mean, no one *EVER* uses Western Union for non-scam purposes? Really? Not once? Ever? In all of history?

          • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

            No. I have used Western Union: to send money to people I know and trust. Not a stranger on the internet.

            Craig’s list themselves posted that advice, based on the fact that most of the people getting scammed on Craig’s list were via money transfers.

          • Hooray4Zoidberg says:

            When it’s to wire someone you don’t know and have never met in person the odds of it being a scam outweigh it the odds of it being legit by such a wide margin it’s just as well to say “it’s always a scam”.

            Was it ever a valid form of payment ever in history? Yes, at one point it was fine, before all the scammers and copy cat scammers caught onto how little Western Union does to protect people from these types of scams. It’s at the point now where it’s just about useless as a payment service unless you know for a fact the person you’re wiring money too someone you know personally.

          • NatalieErin says:

            As someone who occasionally attempts to help people on Craigslist’s forum, even that warning is not enough. Every. damn. day. someone shows us asking if the email offering a [description of standard excess funds scam] is legit.

            Some people are beyond the reach of nuance.

          • econobiker says:

            Western Union has been the process to ship illegal immigrant cash back to their families in other countries. A non-scam use, though still on the edge of legality…

      • mdoneil says:

        There is no place on Craigslist to which would wire money that is legitimate. London is not Rio.

        A travel writer uses Craigslist to find vacation rentals? Is there a vacation rental on CL that is not a scam?

    • CaughtLooking says:

      Red flags? How about screaming neon lights?

      This guy is not the brightest crayon in the box.

    • fourclover54 says:

      Oh, I do love some good old OP blaming.

    • Alvis says:

      I blame much of that on his being a New Yorker. From what I know of friends’ experience, renting in New York is a bizzare system unlike you’d find in most of the rest of the US.

    • nodaybuttoday says:

      I have to agree. That is a really old scam, I’ve heard it so many times. :-/

  5. Straspey says:

    Yeah – I read this last night on the Times’ website.

    There’s also the scam on Craigslist for local apartments where the person advertising the apartment will be happy to show it to you, but wants to make sure you have good credit by asking for your credit score.

    When you tell them you have your credit report, they tell you that they work “exclusively” with this credit-reporting company and they send you a link to their website – where you are asked to enter all you personal info, including Soc Sec Number, so they can “verify” your creditworthiness.

    The next thing to be verified is the fact that your identity has been stolen.

    • Twonkey says:

      Yup, I encountered that scam. I just entered a bunch of BS info into the web-form and got a nice (nasty) e-mail back in response. Wasting scammer’s time is fun.

    • NatalieErin says:

      Those asshats show up in the employment listings, too.

  6. Alvis says:

    “In English-speaking countries, look out for poor grammar.”

    The tell-tale sign of a scammer is the dangling preposition.

  7. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I could let it go if a general reporter fell for this. Maybe.

    But a TRAVEL reporter? Yes, I read the article and know that he lived in Brazil for two years. But if he’s an international traveler he should be perfectly aware of scams such as this and how to detect it.

    It sounds as if he knew the risk and in his haste decided to let it ride and simply hope it was legit. And he got burned.

    • Jubes says:

      I was just looking through his bio and previous posts on his travels and it looks like he hadn’t been to Europe yet (as an adult at least). Still, I have no sympathy for him. As someone who travels frequently, you’d think he’d use other resources available to him. TA is one of the most informative sites I have found for traveling, I reference it all the time and the most common thing people ask about care Craigslist apartment listings. I haven’t been in a forum where a single person has told the OP to rent the apt. If a person is serious about renting their property, they’ll be on a legitimate site for vacation properties.

  8. Portlandia says:

    Sorry, he’s an idiot. No Credit cards, just wire the money…yeah…I have ZERO sympathy considering everywhere on CL there are big bold warnings not to send money via wire transfer or western union.

  9. glasscocked says:

    Wire transfer scams are the first sign to me that something is a fraud. If they won’t take credit card or even paypal something is definitely wrong. No one who is legitimate is going to make someone use a service where the buyer has zero chance of fighting fraud.

  10. fsnuffer says:

    This should not be a problem, I can recover his money for a fee.

  11. common_sense84 says:

    Use to track down the source of the image. Most scams just rip images from legit ads.

  12. Jubes says:

    It sucks that it happened to him, but I don’t have any sympathy for him. I’ve rented apartments in Paris and Amsterdam, and am hunting for one in Berlin right now. I would NEVER trust Craigslist. I’ve read too much to not trust what I see on the site when it comes to vacation rentals. Any savvy traveller would tell you never to rent off of there. My brother just asked me to look for a place for him to stay in London and he linked an ad to me for an apartment he thought was great. The first thing I did was Google the email address. It came up on a few spammer email lists, so I told him and he said he thought it looked too good to be true. We’re staying in a B&B in London in April so I’ve done some research on areas and prices, so as soon as I saw $73 a night (45 GBP) in Notting Hill for a studio, I said yeah right! There are a few red flags that popped out to me right away…I’m a bit surprised that a travel writer wouldn’t have seen them.

    • FatLynn says:

      I rented in Paris through a well-known agency that I had researched thoroughly on the internet (I think it was called Ah, Paris). Domestically, I’ve rented through VRBO. Both allowed me to pay all advance money by credit card.

  13. areaman says:

    I would love to go to London again and probably would if my friend was still living there.

  14. watson2001 says:

    Simple formula for travel or hiring a contractor:

    Below Market Price for a Good or Service+ Pay me in Cash before Service Performed/Good Received= $CAM

  15. Tallanvor says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the big sign that something was fishy was that it was posted on craigslist. –Craigslist never picked up in the UK, instead you have Gumtree. But that’s not something you would necessarily know if you haven’t lived there, so I don’t fault the reporter for that.

    And the concept of transferring money electronically is very common in Europe, so sending money directly to a bank account isn’t going to be a red flag. When I was living in London, I wrote very few checks, and here in Norway I’ve never written or received one (I’m not even sure if it’s possible to order them). Everything is done by electronic transfer – either direct debit for fixed costs (gym, internet, etc) or I get the bill by mail or email and pay it through my bank. Even friends will often pay each other back this way!

  16. lyllydd says:

    Ok, the guy writes about travel for a living, and he was unaware of the phony rental scam? Why is he still employed?