Kathie Grealish is proud of the summerhouse she rents out with a beautiful view of the water. But she was shocked recently to get a call from a woman who thought she had a signed contract for the house. Kathie Grealish "She said our family is coming and we're looking into renting bicycles. I said, 'I don't, this name does not sound familiar.'"

Kathie lists her house on V-R-B-O, a popular vacation rental site. Apparently a scam artist had hacked into her email and posing as her, sent a forged contract. It listed a foreign bank and told the renter to send more than three thousand dollars. "That's just one of the tricks that criminals use to steal your money and ruin your vacation.

Another ploy? They lure you with properties that are in foreclosure or don't even exist." Consumer Reports found many complaints of vacation fraud with a simple online search. To protect yourself, before you send any money, call the owner and develop a business relationship. That way you can assess the legitimacy of the listing and the person's right to rent it.

Tobie Stanger, "How you pay is also important. Never use payments like wire transfers, cashier's checks, money orders. They don't provide protection in the event of fraud." The safest ways to pay are by credit card, PayPal or by using the payment transfer option on the rental website. Consumer Reports also recommends using the website Flipkey if you want to rent a house or apartment. It conducts background checks on landlords and makes sure the properties are legitimate so you can avoid a vacation disaster.

Consumer Reports says you might also consider rental guarantee insurance.
The vacation websites V-R-B-O and Homeaway provide 10-thousand dollars of coverage for 39 dollars.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

All Consumer Reports Material Copyright ©2014 Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED