The summer vacation season in Cancun is in full swing, and with numerous hotels reporting record occupancy rates, many tourists are seeking more affordable options. For some, the growing availability of online private rentals has been a massive advantage. However, scams targeting visitors are also on the rise, with a 40% increase recorded in the past year.
Online scams targeting tourists in Cancun have been increasing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online fraud is especially prevalent in the private rental sector, targeting tourists on platforms such as Airbnb or popular social media websites. Although Airbnb is becoming increasingly popular, allowing visitors flexibility and choice, tourists using the service are at risk of falling victim to various online scams. Tourism officials in Cancun are raising the alarm over the increasing online fraud numbers and are warning tourists about the dangers.
Earlier this year, it was reported that vacation home rental scams are on the rise. Since then, authorities have launched various initiatives to tackle the issue, including several preventive measures and offering better legal options. However, with the summer season full steam ahead, tourists continue to be victims of online fraud in the rental business. Fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated techniques, including phishing and publishing fake ads made to imitate real websites.
Online scams targeting vacation home rentals can affect tourists in several ways. One of the most common scams involves asking tourists to make a cash deposit prior to renting a vacation home, only for the supposed owners to not show up or not even own the property. In other cases, informal arrangements are made which have no legal basis or guarantees. Thus, it becomes nearly impossible to file a complaint or pursue legal action.
Although a large number of scammers use apps such as Airbnb, many also resort to social media websites such as Instagram or Facebook. The latter is especially popular due to the abundance of groups where homeowners can put up their property for rent.
Figures released recently show an alarming increase in online rental frauds. Between September 2021 and March 2022, a total of 1129 complaints were recorded. Meanwhile, the Mexican Real Estate Association (AMPI) notes that online fraud targeting tourists has gone up nearly 40% in the last year. However, only one in every three victims files complaints or takes legal action. With legal proceedings taking up a lot of time and involving a significant price tag, many affected individuals take to social media to share their cases.
In Quintana Roo, Mexico’s leading tourism hotspot, 70% of all online rental scams occur in Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Tulum, and Cancun. Tourists looking to rent vacation homes should exercise caution and ensure the credibility of the renter. This can be done by scanning through reviews, verifying the user’s profile, and avoiding informal arrangements on social media.
Airbnb, the world’s largest online platform for private rentals, issued several recommendations on avoiding scams. To avoid fraudulent payments, the company urges users to only make reservations through the official website or app. Likewise, look out for properties that offer extremely low prices, as these are more often than not meant to lure tourists to make a false booking.
As many hotels around Quintana Roo report record occupancy rates, including Isla Mujeres, prices are increasing across the board. As a result, travelers looking for a bargain may resort to online rentals, which may be cheaper. Other forms of online scams, such as excessively priced hotel or excursion packages, remain a persistent issue in Cancun.
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