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Budget travel sparks hotel alternatives scams

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BOSTON (7/20/11)--As the economic stall lingers, households continue to cut back on nonessential expenses, including vacations. The good news is, online vacation rental and hospitality sites offer affordable--even free--accommodations. Online marketplaces offer good deals, but vacation rental scams are on the rise, especially during summer ( July 12). To help avoid scammers:
* Be cautious on Craigslist and similar sites, which have been popular venues for marketing scams. * Search the property address. Some scams involve nonexistent properties. When possible, have someone you know visit the property. * Check out the party from whom you’re renting. Consumer Affairs, the attorney general, and the Better Business Bureau are all good sources for finding complaints against businesses. A quick Web search is also a good idea. * Never pay for a rental by wiring money, and avoid using cash or checks. Paying by credit card provides the most consumer protection.
Research which site is right for you. Three of the most popular services are:
* CouchSurfing. Ideal for the penny-pincher and adventurer, CouchSurfing connects travelers with locals’ couches and spare beds in more than 230 countries and territories. The hospitality is free and you’ll have a true cultural experience. Hosts typically are more than willing to give local advice or show visitors around. On the downside, there’s less privacy than in hotels and no safety guarantee. * Airbnb. Reaching 13,000 cities in 181 countries, Airbnb connects prospective travelers with everything from spare beds to castles and tree houses. It handles payment transactions and, if problems arise, Airbnb does not pay hosts until 24 hours after check-in. You’ll find a range of privacy from sharing bedrooms to host-free stays; links to Facebook and Twitter show users where friends have stayed. On the downside, you can expect a more urban, less rural focus and no guarantee of safety. * HomeAway. specializes in vacation home rentals. The site represents more than 560,000 listings in more than 145 countries. HomeAway owns several websites, including (Vacation Rentals by Owner). You can expect a high degree of privacy by renting an entire property, with plenty of space to spread out. But HomeAway is just a matchmaker; the site doesn’t handle payments or provide free protection or assurance.
While CouchSurfing and Airbnb are generally safe, staying in a stranger’s home involves an inherent risk. Choose hosts recommended by peers, and travel with other people. Women especially should consider travelling in groups and selecting only female or family hosts. Knowing how different rental or hospitality sites operate will help you find the most reliable platform for accommodations. Who knows--you may even find a way to make extra income from your home’s unused space. For more ideas, read “Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy” and watch the video “Money and Travel” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.